Roundup August 10, 2012

Good morning! It’s my second day of dicking about with Pinterest – which I spelled wrong in the entire first article and no one corrected it – and I’m sort of ambiguous about it. I finally got some interesting content on there last night, but it takes a while.

All the best Science Fiction books, free!

War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Vonnegut, Wells, it’s a collection of all of the best public domain science fiction books and audio books. Seriously, just bookmark that site and come back to it when you’re bored. On that topic, check out the Big Bang Bundle on They’ve interpreted the increasingly popular humble bundle idea for books, and one of the authors has said that he’s sold three times as many copies of his book with this bundle than before. Remember, like indie musicians and game devs, these authors aren’t bad because they haven’t been picked up, they’re just wanting to stay away from the traditional publishing method. hacked, lots of stuff stolen., Blizzard’s online portal to their games, is having a bit of a security crisis. Blizzard’s internal network suffered a breach, according to a blog post, and a list of email addresses for global users (not in China) has been accessed, as well as security questions and authenticators for North American accounts. Blizzard reports that this isn’t enough to access your account, but also says that encrypted – or “cryptographically scrambled” – passwords have been taken, and while it is very difficult to crack them, they’re requiring all users to change their passwords immediately as well as any other site you use that password for. For more information on the breach, see this FAQ. Remember, high visibility companies are constantly under attack by hackers, because the information they hold is valuable. There’s only so much a company can do, and seeing as the biggest fallout for the users from this breach is a password change, you’re all lucky.

How to be a tech blogger.

This isn’t news as much as it is satire. Ezra Butler lays down the 14 most common posts in tech blogging, along with some burning sarcasm about how it makes you super good at your job as a tech blogger. Even though I’m not very good at this gig, I still find myself following the list. He mocks the anger at Patent Trolls, quick assumptions that an industry/company is dead/dying, or why they should die, etc. Even Steven has nailed one of them. My own Pinterest experiment is a rough interpretation of #10.

How the stock market became a war zone.

Accompanied by some easy-to-interpret gifs, this article details the rise of the machines in stock trading, starting in early 2007 when people issued buy/sell orders when they really wanted to make a deal, then to mid-2007 when the machines turned up the volume of trades and beyond. If you read the captions on the images, you’ll see how machines were designed to place 1000s of quotes for trades, then started doing so randomly, as not to be traded against. After that happened, they would ebb and flow, coming back bigger after every disappearance. The chart for 2012 looks like white noise (lol) on an oscilloscope, not honest trading.  Remember Knight Trading, the group that lost control of their algorithm? They lost $10 million per minute that machine went nuts, and it went nuts for 44 minutes, throwing stocks up and down on whatever whim it interpreted from the 1’s and 0’s programmed into its metallic head.

Unrelated joke.

Google’s benefits are awesome, even post-mortem. 

It’s no secret that working for Google is awesome. Their way of doing business has always been attractive, placing them at or near the top of Fortune Magazine’s ‘Best Places to Work’ list since 2007. Employees get killer food, great atmosphere, the usual medical and dental, and free haircuts. Now, there’s a new reason to work for Google: Death benefits. While morbid, it’s not something that anyone can escape, so Google has planned for it. As it stands, almost all of Google’s US employees are instantly qualified to have their surviving spouse or domestic partner receive 50% of their pay each year for the next 10 years. That is out-frikkin-standing. Also, there’s no tenure requirement.

Rat Brain in a dish flies F-22 sim.

Scientists do the coolest things when they’re bored. First, they put an electrode grid at the bottom of a dish, then covered it with rat neurons. The neurons aligned themselves to establish a neural network, a brain. Then, they let it fly a simulator for the F-22 via a desktop computer. No word on how they gave it hands for the joysticks. More importantly, the fact that an artificially created computational device with biological components has been created is amazing. Scientists can now use the discovery to study how the brain works and use ‘brains’ like these to control prosthetic devices and unmanned drones.

43% more people watched Curiosity on their computers than TV.

This may be due to the convenience of watching your laptop late at night rather than wake your spouse up with the TV, or it may be because that’s how Americans want to consume media, NBC/London 2012. A study shows that 3.7 million people tuned in to digital streams of the nuclear-powered rover land, while only 1.7 watched it on TV. In fact, more people viewed the NASA Ustream even than “many of the top cable news networks during Sunday prime time,” said Tony Riggins, a spokesperson for Ustream. I don’t know what’s more amazing; the fact that NASA – a government entity –  loves and embraces social media, or that they can actually manage online broadcasts better than a major broadcast organization.

Google’s new voice search kicks Siri to the curb.

Siri, subject of ridiculous commercials and Apple’s shining selling point, looks like it may have been bested by Google. Google, of course, is king of searches, and knows what you mean when you search (otherwise known as contextual data). Apple’s Siri has to use outside information, which it pays for (Yelp, Yahoo, Wikipedia and Google provide the data), to get results. We know Google has a good understanding of voice recognition, from the launch of voice search via your computer’s microphone, so it’s no surprise that Google can play hardball in this game. Of course, Google’s awesome new voice search on their iOS app is limited to searching right now, but it might one day take over Siri’s spot, and on Apple’s golden-boy phone. Unless Apple locks down third party app access, that is.

Panoramic video app for iPhone is awesome.

It’s not just an app, because you need a special accessory to capture the panoramic view, but this thing is brilliant. The attachment, a conical mirror, attaches over the lens of your iPhone’s camera so that when you launch the app, called ‘Dot,’ your phone records a panoramic video. The video is translated using a custom player, allowing you to pan around within the video. Of course, you do lose quality when you segment the capture like that, but the experience is amazing. Very cool, but limited to the iPhone 4 and 4s for now, most likely due to a difference in size and design of other phones.

Why the Curiosity uses a 2MP camera.

In the day and age when phones come with 8 megapixel cameras, whether you want it or not, it seems silly to have given a $2.5b robot a mere 2MP photo sensor. Of course, there are reasons – good ones, too! The first and foremost is bandwidth: The rover isn’t just a photographer. It is taking samples and sending data back to us all the time, not just pictures. The data stream is very limited as well, it’s not like typical networking when the distant end can ask for a re-send. Another very good reason is that the landscape on Mars is stationary, allowing for many 2mp shots to be stitched together for higher definition panoramic views. For more info on the makeup of Curiosity, check this article.

Edit: Thanks to Gumper in the comments for this link, which provides more information on the cameras used by Curiosity.

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