Input Devices

Ask Slashdot: Which Laptop Has The Best Keyboard? 299

Slashdot reader Rock21k is thinking of replacing an old laptop. But... All newer laptops seem to have wide spacing between the keyboard keys, which I hate... At one time, this used to be for consumer laptops but most major companies have done it for business laptops as well... Probably over time I might get used to it, but definitely not the first choice. I understand I can use an external keyboard but that defeats the purpose of a laptop! Do you also hate wide spacing between keyboard keys? Which brand do you find least annoying? Leave your best answers in the comments. Which laptop has the best keyboard?
Input Devices

What Will Replace Computer Keyboards? (xconomy.com) 302

jeffengel writes:Computer keyboards will be phased out over the next 20 years, and we should think carefully about what replaces them as the dominant mode of communicating with machines, argues Android co-founder Rich Miner. Virtual reality technology and brain-computer links -- whose advocates include Elon Musk -- could lead to a "dystopian" future where people live their lives inside of goggles, or they jack directly into computers and become completely "de-personalized," Miner worries.

He takes a more "humanistic" view of the future of human-machine interfaces, one that frees us to be more expressive and requires computers to communicate on our level, not the other way around. That means software that can understand our speech, facial expressions, gestures, and handwriting. These technologies already exist, but have a lot of room for improvement.

One example he gives is holding up your hand to pause a video.
Google

Clever Hack Fakes A Sleep Timer For Google Home (vortex.com) 50

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes: I've long been bitching about Google Home's lack of a basic function that clock radios have had since at least the middle of the last century -- the classic "sleep timer" for playing music until a specified time or until a specific interval has passed... Originally, sleep timer type commands weren't recognized at all by GH, but eventually it started admitting that the concept at least exists... Officially, GH still responds with "Sleep timer is not yet supported" when you give commands like "Stop playing in an hour"... A somewhat inconvenient but seemingly serviceable way to fake a sleep timer is now possible with Google Home. I plead guilty, it's a hack. But here we go.
The hack exploits the new "Night Mode" in the firmware, which lets you set a maximum volume for specific hours of the day, creating silent (but still-active) music streaming. "Yep, a hack, but it works," writes Lauren. "And it's the closest we've gotten to a real sleep timer on Google Home so far."

Any other Slashdot readers have their own favorite personal assistant tricks?
Input Devices

Meet The Next Major Operating System: Amazon's Alexa (zdnet.com) 168

ZDNet's editor-in-chief warns that Amazon has ambitious plans for its new Echo Plus: Amazon is making an explicit play to be the home hub because it can automatically discover and set up lights, locks, plugs, and switches without the need for additional hubs or apps. And the Alexa 'routines' feature will be able to tie all of this together by allowing you to automate a series of actions with a single voice command: saying "Alexa, good night," and having it turn off the lights, lock the door, and turn off the TV, for example. A platform that other apps and devices can connect into? This starts to sound a lot like an operating system for the home to me.

It's not just the home, either; Amazon announced a deal to make Alexa available in BMW and Mini vehicles from the middle of next year, allowing drivers to use the digital assistant to get directions, play music or control smart home devices while travelling, without having to use a separate app. Travellers will also have access to Alexa skills from third-party developers like Starbucks, allowing them to order their coffee while driving and thus skip the line. Back in January, Amazon and Ford said they were working together to allow voice commands to turn on the engine, lock or unlock the doors as well as play music and use other skills...

It's still early days but I think Alexa has a good shot at becoming one of the standard interfaces, certainly for consumers -- an operating system for the home, if not more, if the automotive tie-ups take off too. All of this will make Amazon a serious force to be reckoned with. Windows has the desktop, and Android and iOS can fight it out for the smartphone, but right now Alexa has a lock on the smart home.

Math

A New Sampling Algorithm Could Eliminate Sensor Saturation (scitechdaily.com) 135

Baron_Yam shared an article from Science Daily: Researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich have developed a new technique that could lead to cameras that can handle light of any intensity, and audio that doesn't skip or pop. Virtually any modern information-capture device -- such as a camera, audio recorder, or telephone -- has an analog-to-digital converter in it, a circuit that converts the fluctuating voltages of analog signals into strings of ones and zeroes. Almost all commercial analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), however, have voltage limits. If an incoming signal exceeds that limit, the ADC either cuts it off or flatlines at the maximum voltage. This phenomenon is familiar as the pops and skips of a "clipped" audio signal or as "saturation" in digital images -- when, for instance, a sky that looks blue to the naked eye shows up on-camera as a sheet of white.

Last week, at the International Conference on Sampling Theory and Applications, researchers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich presented a technique that they call unlimited sampling, which can accurately digitize signals whose voltage peaks are far beyond an ADC's voltage limit. The consequence could be cameras that capture all the gradations of color visible to the human eye, audio that doesn't skip, and medical and environmental sensors that can handle both long periods of low activity and the sudden signal spikes that are often the events of interest.

One of the paper's author's explains that "The idea is very simple. If you have a number that is too big to store in your computer memory, you can take the modulo of the number."
IBM

Enthusiast Resurrects IBM's Legendary 'Model F' Keyboard (popularmechanics.com) 184

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Mechanics: You may not know the Model F by name, but you know it by sound -- the musical thwacking of flippers slapping away. The sound of the '80s office. The IBM Model F greeting the world in 1981 with a good ten pounds of die-cast zinc and keys that crash down on buckling metal springs as they descend. It's a sensation today's clickiest keyboards chase, but will never catch. And now it's coming back. The second coming of the high-quality Model F (not to be confused with its more affordable plastic successor, the Model M) isn't a throwback attention grab from IBM, nor a nostalgia play from Big Keyboard. Instead, it's the longtime work of a historian in love with the retro keyboard's unparalleled sound and feel, but frustrated by the limitations of actual decades-old tech.

The Model F Keyboards project, now taking preorders for the new line of authentic retro-boards, was started by Joe Strandberg, a Cornell University grad who's taken up keyboard wizardry as a nights-and-weekends hobby. He started as a collector and restorer of genuine Model F keyboards -- originally produced from 1981 to 1994 -- a process that familiarized him with their virtues and their flaws... Working with a factory in China, Strandberg has carefully overseen the reproduction process one step at time, from the springs to the unique powder-coating on the keyboard's zinc case. Despite the expense (Strandberg estimates spending $100,000 to revive the tooling necessary for the production run), it was the only viable option given the kind of abuse your average keyboard takes on a daily basis. "With 3D printing," he says, "the keyboard wouldn't last a year."

The first prototypes have just left the assembly line, and he's already racked up over a quarter of a million dollars in pre-orders. Does anyone else fondly remember IBM's hefty and trusty old keyboards?
Input Devices

Facebook Closes Its Oculus VR Studio (bbc.com) 72

puddingebola writes: Facebook has closed Oculus VR Studio. The studio was a maker of original VR films, but now will only assist other studios. This makes it official, as the studio had been shuttered since the departure of Palmer Luckey.
In a blog post the company emphasized that "We're still absolutely committed to growing the VR film and creative content ecosystem."
Input Devices

Computer Pioneer Harry Huskey Dies At Age 101 (bbc.co.uk) 46

Big Hairy Ian quotes the BBC: Engineer Harry Huskey, who helped build many of the first ever computers, has died aged 101. Dr. Huskey was a key member of the team that built the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) which first ran in February 1946. ENIAC is widely considered to be one of the first electronic, general purpose, programmable computers. Dr. Huskey also helped complete work on the Ace -- the Automatic Computing Engine -- designed by Alan Turing.
U.C. Santa Cruz also remembers Huskey's work on the Bendix G-15 in 1954, "a 950-pound predecessor to today's laptops" which is sometimes hailed as the first personal computer (since it didn't require a separate technician to run) -- though each one cost over $50,000. The idea of an "electronic brain" was still so new, it led Huskey to an appearance on Groucho Marx's radio show You Bet Your Life, where Groucho warned him that "They're pretty tricky those machines! I wouldn't trust 'em... They'll turn on your like a mad dog, doctor!"
Input Devices

RIP, Robert Taylor, The Innovator Who Shaped Modern Computing (sfgate.com) 37

"Any way you look at it, from kick-starting the Internet to launching the personal computer revolution, Bob Taylor was a key architect of our modern world," says a historian at Stanford's Silicon Valley Archives. An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: The Internet, like many inventions, was the work of many inventors. But perhaps no one deserves more credit for that world-changing technological leap than Mr. Taylor. The seminal moment of his work came in 1966. He had just taken a new position at the Pentagon -- director of the Information Processing Techniques Office, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Arpa -- and on his first day on the job it became immediately obvious to him what the office lacked and what it needed. At the time, Arpa was funding three separate computer research projects and using three separate computer terminals to communicate with them. Mr. Taylor said, No, we need a single computer research network, to connect each project with the others, to enable each to communicate with the others... His idea led to the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet.

A half-decade later, at Xerox's storied Palo Alto Research Center, Mr. Taylor was instrumental in another technological breakthrough: funding the design of the Alto computer, which is widely viewed as the forerunner of the modern personal computer. Mr. Taylor even had a vital role in the invention of the computer mouse. In 1961, at the dawn of the Space Age, he was about a year into his job as a project manager at NASA in Washington when he learned about the work of a young computer scientist at Stanford Research Institute, later called SRI International... Mr. Taylor decided to pump more money into the work, and the financial infusion led directly to Engelbart's invention of the mouse, a computer control technology that would be instrumental in the design of both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows-based computers.

Taylor had become fascinated with human-computer interactions in the 1950s during his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, and was "appalled" that performing data calculations required submitting his punch cards to a technician running the school's mainframe computers. Years later, it was Taylor's group at PARC that Steve Jobs visited in 1979, which inspired the "desktop" metaphor for the Macintosh's graphical user interface. And Charles Simonyi eventually left PARC to join Microsoft, where he developed the Office suite of applications.

Taylor died Thursday at his home in Woodside, California, from complications of Parkinson's disease, at the age of 85.
Google

Google Glass Enters The Manufacturing Sector (npr.org) 61

NPR recently profiled one of the 100 factory workers now using Google Glass at the agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Google Glass tells her what to do should she forget, for example, which part goes where. "I don't have to leave my area to go look at the computer every time I need to look up something," she says. With Google Glass, she scans the serial number on the part she's working on. This brings up manuals, photos or videos she may need. She can tap the side of headset or say "OK Glass" and use voice commands to leave notes for the next shift worker...

Peggy Gullick, business process improvement director with AGCO, says the addition of Google Glass has been "a total game changer." Quality checks are now 20 percent faster, she says, and it's also helpful for on-the-job training of new employees... Tiffany Tsai, who writes about technology, says it's one of a growing number of companies -- including General Electric and Boeing -- testing it out... Companies working in the health care, entertainment and energy industries are listed as some of the Google Glass certified partners.

AGCO plans to have 200 workers using Google Glass by the end of this year.
Biotech

Tech Billionaires Invest In Linking Brains To Computers (technologyreview.com) 77

"To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web," including Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk. An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which plowed money into new schemes for recording neurons. That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a "high-fidelity" brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time...

According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called "neural lace," which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to "symbiosis with machines." And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day be able to share "full sensory and emotional experiences," not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

Elon Musk complains that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are "ridiculously slow".
First Person Shooters (Games)

New 'Doom 3' Mod Successfully Ports It Into Virtual Reality (vice.com) 42

When it comes to VR ports of popular games, "Doom 3's fluid weapon handling, interactivity, and general creepiness put it in a different class entirely," writes Motherboard. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Using the graphically enhanced "BFG" version of 2004's Doom 3, the mod from "Codes4Fun" skillfully ports to game to the HTC Vive, generally making it look as though it was designed for the platform all along. Swedish YouTuber SweViver recently posted a video showing off his first spin with it... SweViver walks and runs about naturally using only the Vive controller's touchpad...the video shows him jumping and using the mod's impressive hand-tracking to handle his gun and flashlight separately as they float before him in place of the controllers in his hands. At one point, he even whips out virtual fists that let him pummel things with the controllers' left and right triggers.
His conclusion? "This is probably the first AAA game that actually works on the Vive."
Open Source

New Crowdfunding Campaign Offers Modular EOMA68 Computing Devices (crowdsupply.com) 122

A new crowdfunding campaign by Rhombus Tech "introduces the world's first devices built around the EOMA68 standard," which separates a "modular" CPU board from the rest of the system so that it can be easily used in multiple devices and upgraded more simply. Rhombus Tech is now offering a 15.6-inch laptop, a laser-cut wooden Micro-Desktop housing, and two types of computer cards, both using A20 dual-core ARM Cortex A7 processors. The cards are available with four flavors of the GNU/Linux operating system, and they're hoping to receive RYF certification from the Free Software Foundation.

"No proprietary software," explains their campaign's video. "No backdoors. No spyware. No NDAs." They envision a world where users upgrade their computers by simply popping in a new card -- reducing electronic waste -- or print new laptop casings to repair defects or swap in different colors. (And they also hope to eventually see the cards also working with cameras, phones, tablets, and gaming consoles.) Rhombus Tech CTO Luke Leighton did a Slashdot interview in 2012, and contacted Slashdot this weekend to announce: A live-streamed video from Hope2016 explains what it's about, and there is a huge range of discussions and articles online. The real burning question is: if a single Software Libre Engineer can teach themselves PCB design and bring modular computing to people on the budget available from a single company, why are there not already a huge number of companies doing modular upgradeable hardware?
Android

Turn Your Android Phone Into a Laptop For $99 With the Superbook (techinsider.io) 126

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: A company called Andromium is attempting to harness the processing power of your Android smartphone and turn it into a full fledged computer. The 'Superbook' consists of a 11.6-inch laptop shell, which you connect to your phone via a USB Micro-B or Type-C cable, and run the Andromium OS application (currently in beta, but available in the Play Store)... The leader of the project and Company co-founder Gordon Zheng, previously worked at Google and pitched the idea to them... They refused so he quit his job and founded Andromium Inc.

In December 2014 the company had introduced their first product which was a dock which used the MHL standard to output to external monitor. That campaign failed, however their newest creation, the Superbook smashed their Kickstarter goal in just over 20 minutes.

And within their first 38 hours, they'd crowdfunded $500,000. In an intriguing side note, Andromium "says it'll open its SDK so developers can tailor their apps for Andromium, too, though how much support that gets remains to be seen," reports Tech Insider. But more importantly, "Andromium says its prototypes are finished, and that it hopes to ship the Superbook to backers by February 2017."
Android

Microsoft 'Patch' Blocks Linux Installs On Locked-Down Windows RT Computers (fossbytes.com) 141

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes a report from fossBytes: Microsoft has released a security update that has patched a backdoor in Windows RT operating system [that] allowed users to install non-Redmond approved operating systems like Linux and Android on Windows RT tablets. This vulnerability in ARM-powered, locked-down Windows devices was left by Redmond programmers during the development process. Exploiting this flaw, one was able to boot operating systems of his/her choice, including Android or GNU/Linux.
The Register points out that since Windows RT is "a dead-end operating system" which Microsoft has announced they'll stop developing, "mainstream support for Surface RT tablets runs out in 2017 and Windows RT 8.1 in 2018. This is why a means to bypass its boot mechanisms is highly sought."
Android

Pokemon Go Leads to Reckless Driving, Injuries, and A Corpse (chicagotribune.com) 130

Since its release Wednesday night, Pokemon Go has already gone on to become the top-grossing game in the three countries where it's available, and Forbes contributor Tero Kuittinen calls it "the first example of an AR product becoming a national obsession." An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Some fans are now tweeting about playing the game while driving, and the Chicago Tribune quotes one user who says "Pokemon Go put me in the ER last night... Not even 30 minutes after the release...I slipped and fell down a ditch." In Australia the game has been leading some players to their local police station, and a woman in Wyoming reports that the game actually led her to a dead body floating in a river. And at least one Pokemon Go screenshot has gone viral. It shows a man capturing a Pokemon while his wife gives birth.
The app's popularity has created lagging servers and forced Niantic to delay its international roll-out, meaning "Those who have already downloaded the game in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand can still play it, while those in the U.K., the Netherlands and other countries will have to wait." Meanwhile, Motherboard warns that a malicious sideloaded version of Pokemon Go is being distributed that actually installs a backdoor on Android devices, and also reports that some players are already spoofing their GPS coordinates in order to catch Pokemon without leaving their house.
Australia

Google Searches For 'VR Porn' Increase 10,000% (vrtalk.com) 80

Slashdot reader Bob768 writes: Over the last 20 months, with the rise of virtual reality technology, the number of Google searches for the phrase 'VR Porn' have soared nearly 10,000%. The leading country for these searches is Norway.
Last November searches for the term experienced the "spike of all spikes", according to a post on the VR Talk forum, which also identifies the top cities (two in Australia) for the searches -- Helsinki, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore, Tel Aviv, and Seoul.
Businesses

Snapchat Reportedly Acquires Bitmoji Maker Bitstrips For $100 Million (fortune.com) 33

An anonymous reader writes: According to a report from Fortune, Snapchat, the messaging platform which has recently become the number one free app on the App Store, has agreed to acquire Bitstrips, the folks behind the popular emoji-creation service Bitmoji. Fortune's sources has said the deal is "in the ballpark" of $100 million. TechCrunch writes, "The idea behind Bitmoji is simple. Users download the app and create an Avatar that represents them. They can choose from a wide range of options like face shape, hair color and cut, eye shape and color, etc. From there, Bitmoji is added as a third-party keyboard, and the app offers hundreds of options for users to send to their friends, all featuring their avatar." It'll be interesting to see which features of Bitstrips will be implemented into Snapchat, given Bitstrip's experience with keyboard integrations.
Graphics

US Army Creates Virtual Reality Dome To Assess Soldier Thinking During Combat 35

HughPickens.com writes: Bryant Jordan reports at Defense Tech that the Cognitive Science and Applications Team at the US Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is creating a computer-generated reality "dome" to immerse warfighters in a virtual environment that not only tests their skills, but allows Army researchers to assess soldier cognitive abilities and study the impact of real-world operational situations on decision-making, spatial memory and wayfinding. The dome is a concave virtual-reality system that provides a full 180-degree horizontal field, using high-density, front-projection to create a high-resolution, visual world where the simulations will be modeled on real-world locations. "The integration of multiple input modalities, along with multisensory feedback, increases the realism, immersion and engagement on behalf of users subjected to prolonged, workload-intensive activities," says Dr. Caroline Mahoney. "These novel integrations provide unprecedented opportunities to monitor and optimize human behavior during real-world task execution, and to evaluate and predict the impact of innovative human-systems technologies on operational performance." In the virtual dome, users can interact and alter the environment through hand-held and weapon-based devices, which control movement, orientation and weapon aiming. Future additions to the dome will include whole-body motion tracking, low-frequency vibration and directional wind. Vibro-tactile collision feedback — which combines vibration and touch to help give participants a physical sense of constraints in a virtual environment — will also be included.
Displays

Oculus Co-Founder's New Venture: Long-Range Virtual Reality Tracking System (roadtovr.com) 15

An anonymous reader writes: Jack McCauley was among Oculus' founding members and played a seminal role in the development of the Rift DK1 and DK2 VR headsets as the company's VP of Engineering. After departing from the VR firm sometime around the 2014 acquisition by Facebook, McCauley has continued his interest in VR, most recently demonstrating a laser tracking system that makes use of MEMS technology to actively track targets. He says the system's strengths are long range and low cost compared to camera-based tracking solutions, which Oculus currently uses.

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