Software

Ask Slashdot: What Is Missing In Tech Today? 356

dryriver writes: There is so much tech and gadget news pouring out of the internet every day that one might think "everything tech that is needed already exists." But of course, people thought precisely that at various points in human history, and then completely new tools, technologies, processes, designs, devices and innovations came along soon after and changed everything. Sometimes the opposite also happens: tech that was really good for its day and used to exist is suddenly no longer available. For example, many people miss the very usable Psion palmtop computers with their foldout QWERTY keyboards, touchscreens, and styluses; or would have liked the Commodore Amiga with its innovative custom chips and OS to continue existing and evolving; or would have liked to be able to keep using software like Softimage XSI or Adobe Director, which were suddenly discontinued.

So here is the question: what tech, in your particular profession, industry, personal area of interest, or scientific or academic field, is currently "missing?" This can be tech that is needed but does not exist yet, either hardware or software, or some kind of mechanical device or process. It could also be tech that was available in the past, but was EOL'd or "End Of Lifed" and never came back in an updated or evolved form. Bonus question: if what you feel is "missing" could quite feasibly be engineered, produced, and sold today at a profit, what do you think is the reason it isn't available?
Android

Rejoice: Samsung's Next Flagship Smartphone Looks To Keep the Headphone Jack Alive (theverge.com) 193

Notorious smartphone leaker Evan Blass has leaked a couple press images of the Galaxy S9, giving us the first indication that it will still have a headphone jack. "The full information spill today is actually focused on a new Samsung DeX Pad, which appears to be an evolution of last year's DeX dock for the Galaxy S8," reports The Verge. From the report: Samsung, LG, and a couple of other companies like OnePlus have remained resolute in their inclusion of a headphone jack, but that was far from a certainty for the next Galaxy S iteration. This is a phone that will compete against the iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and more niche rivals like Google's Pixel 2: all of them surviving sans a headphone jack. So Samsung could have dumped the analog audio output, but it seems to have opted against it, and that's worthy of commendation. USB-C earphones are all still either bad or expensive -- or both -- and phones that retain compatibility with 3.5mm connectors remain profoundly useful to consumers that aren't yet convinced by Bluetooth.
Programming

Should GitHub Allow Username Reuse? (donatstudios.com) 84

Jesse Donat argues via Donut Studios why GitHub should never allow usernames to be valid again once they are deleted. He provides an example of a user who deleted his GitHub account and personal domain with a popular tool used for embedding data files into Go binaries. "While this is within his rights to do, this broke a dependency many people had within their projects," Donat writes. "To fix this, some users of the project recreated the account and the repository based on a fork of the project." Donat goes on to write: Allowing username reuse completely breaks any trust that what I pull is what it claims to be. What if this user had been malicious? It may have taken a while before someone actually noticed this wasn't the original user and the code was doing something more than it claimed to.

While Go's "go get" functionality is no doubt naive and just pulls the head of a repository, this is not exclusively Go's problem as this affects any package manager that runs on tags. Simply tag malicious changes beyond the current release and it would be deployed to many users likely with little actual review.

Businesses

Nvidia Will Focus on Gaming Because Cryptocurrencies Are 'Volatile' (vice.com) 122

Graphics card manufacturer Nvidia made almost $10 billion dollars in the last fiscal year, that's up 41 percent from the previous period. The GPU company broke the news to its investors in a conference call on Thursday, and said that video games such as Star Wars: Battlefront II and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds as well as the unprecedented success of the Nintendo Switch led to the record profits. That and cryptocurrency. From a report: Graphics cards are the preferred engine of today's cryptocurrency miners. It's led to a shortage of the GPUs, a spike in their prices, and record profits for the company that manufactures them. "Strong demand in the cryptocurrency market exceeded our expectations," Nvidia chief financial officer Colette Kress told investors during its earnings call yesterday. "We met some of this demand with a dedicated board in our OEM business and some was met with our gaming GPUs." But Nvidia is having trouble keeping up with the demand and it's recommended retailers put gamers ahead of cryptocurrency miners while supply is limited. Kress acknowledged the shortage on the call and reaffirmed Nvidia's commitment to gamers. "While the overall contribution of cryptocurrency to our business remains hard to quantify, we believe it was a higher percentage of revenue than the prior quarter," she said. "That said, our main focus remains on our core gaming market as cryptocurrency trends will likely remain volatile." When Kress finished her statement and opened up the line to questions, the first question was about cryptocurrency. "Is crypto being modeled more conservatively?" An investor from Evercore asked. "We model crypto approximately flat," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's chief executive officer.
Space

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Clusters of Small Engines (arstechnica.com) 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The company's development of the Falcon 9 rocket, with nine engines, had given Musk confidence that SpaceX could scale up to 27 engines in flight, and he believed this was a better overall solution for the thrust needed to escape Earth's gravity. To explain why, the former computer scientist used a computer metaphor. "It's sort of like the way modern computer systems are set up," Musk said. "With Google or Amazon they have large numbers of small computers, such that if one of the computers goes down it doesn't really affect your use of Google or Amazon. That's different from the old model of the mainframe approach, when you have one big mainframe and if it goes down, the whole system goes down."

For computers, Musk said, using large numbers of small computers ends up being a more efficient, smarter, and faster approach than using a few larger, more powerful computers. So it was with rocket engines. "It's better to use a large number of small engines," Musk said. With the Falcon Heavy rocket, he added, up to half a dozen engines could fail and the rocket would still make it to orbit. The flight of the Falcon Heavy likely bodes well for SpaceX's next rocket, the much larger Big Falcon Rocket (or BFR), now being designed at the company's Hawthorne, California-based headquarters. This booster will use 31 engines, four more than the Falcon Heavy. But it will also use larger, more powerful engines. The proposed Raptor engine has 380,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared to 190,000 pounds of thrust for the Merlin 1-D engine.

Programming

Researchers Create Simulation Of a Simple Worm's Neural Network (tuwien.ac.at) 75

ClockEndGooner writes: Researchers at the Technische Universitat Wein have created a simulation of a simple worm's neural network, and have been able to replicate its natural behavior to completely mimic the worm's natural reflexive behavior. According to the article, using a simple neural network of 300 neurons, the simulation of "the worm can find its way, eat bacteria and react to certain external stimuli. It can, for example, react to a touch on its body. A reflexive response is triggered and the worm squirms away. This behavior is determined by the worm's nerve cells and the strength of the connections between them. When this simple reflex network is recreated on a computer, the simulated worm reacts in exactly the same way to a virtual stimulation -- not because anybody programmed it to do so, but because this kind of behavior is hard-wired in its neural network." Using the same neural network without adding any additional nerve cells, Mathias Lechner, Radu Grosu, and Ramin Hasani were able to have the nematode simulation learn to balance a pole "just by tuning the strength of the synaptic connections. This basic idea (tuning the connections between nerve cells) is also the characteristic feature of any natural learning process."
Google

Original Pixel Phone Users Are Suing Google Over Microphone Defects (fastcompany.com) 62

Google is facing a lawsuit over the original Pixel. From a report: In a class action complaint filed this week, plaintiffs allege that the microphones in their Pixel and Pixel XL phones were defective from the start, and that Google knowingly sold defective phones amid widespread complaints immediately after launch. The lawsuit also claims that some warranty replacement phones continued to have problems, though neither of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit had their phones repaired within Google's standard warranty period. Google acknowledged the Pixel phones' microphone issues in March 2017. An employee on Google's support forums attributed the problems to "a hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec," and said the problem can come and go depending on the temperature of the phone or the way it's being held.
China

Police In China Are Scanning Travelers With Facial Recognition Glasses (engadget.com) 87

Baron_Yam shares a report from Engadget: Police in China are now sporting glasses equipped with facial recognition devices and they're using them to scan train riders and plane passengers for individuals who may be trying to avoid law enforcement or are using fake IDs. So far, police have caught seven people connected to major criminal cases and 26 who were using false IDs while traveling, according to People's Daily. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. developed the devices. The company produces wearable video cameras as well and while it sells those to anyone, it's vetting buyers for its facial recognition devices. And, for now, it isn't selling them to consumers. LLVision says that in tests, the system was able to pick out individuals from a database of 10,000 people and it could do so in 100 milliseconds. However, CEO Wu Fei told the Wall Street Journal that in the real world, accuracy would probably drop due to "environmental noise." Additionally, aside from being portable, another difference between these devices and typical facial recognition systems is that the database used for comparing images is contained in a hand-held device rather than the cloud."
Television

Samsung and Roku Smart TVs Vulnerable To Hacking, Consumer Reports Finds (consumerreports.org) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Consumer Reports: Consumer Reports has found that millions of smart TVs can be controlled by hackers exploiting easy-to-find security flaws. The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra. We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn't understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.) The findings were part of a broad privacy and security evaluation, led by Consumer Reports, of smart TVs from top brands that also included LG, Sony, and Vizio. The testing also found that all these TVs raised privacy concerns by collecting very detailed information on their users. Consumers can limit the data collection. But they have to give up a lot of the TVs' functionality -- and know the right buttons to click and settings to look for.
Businesses

Foxconn Unit To Cut Over 10,000 Jobs As Robotics Take Over (nikkei.com) 104

According to Nikkei Asian Review, "Foxconn's panel arm Innolux is planning to slash more than 10,000 jobs this year as part of the company's aggressive efforts to increase the use of automation in manufacturing." Honorary Chairman Tuan Hsing-Chien said in a press conference on Tuesday: "We will reduce our total workforce to less than 50,000 people by the end of this year, from some 60,000 staff at the end of 2017." From the report: Innolux is a liquid crystal display-making affiliate of major iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn Technology Group. Tuan is also a technology adviser to Foxconn, Sharp and Innolux. Tuan said up to 75% of production will be fully automated by the end of 2018. Most of Innolux's factories are in Taiwan. Tuan's pledge came a few days after Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said the company would pour in some $342 million to overhaul its manufacturing process by using artificial intelligence.
Google

Nest Is Done As a Standalone Alphabet Company, Merges With Google (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: There's a shakeup at Nest today. Following previous rumors back in November, Google just announced Nest will no longer be a standalone Alphabet company; instead, it will merge with the Google hardware team. The current Nest CEO, Marwan Fawaz, will report to Google Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh. Google's blog post says the merger will allow it to "combine hardware, software, and services" between the two companies, which are all "built with Google's artificial intelligence and the Assistant at the core." Nest and Google have been growing closer together even without this merger, with Nest getting a spot at the "Made By Google" Pixel 2 launch event to tout Nest and Google Assistant integration. An earlier report from The Wall Street Journal said that Google and Nest already combined their supply chain teams in 2016. While Google has focused on making the "Google" brand well known in the hardware world with the Pixel phones and Google Home, CNET reports that Google won't be dumping the Nest brand.
Power

What Apple's Battery Health 'Fix' Looks Like (bgr.com) 69

Apple has released new battery health features in iOS 11.3 beta 2, which was seeded to developers today. BGR reports what those battery health functions look like, and how to disable power management if you're using an older iPhone: The feature is contained within a new "Battery Health" menu, which is under the "Battery" tab on iOS 11.3. The page only really has two fields: Maximum Capacity, which shows what percentage of the original charge your battery can still hold; and Peak Performance Capacity, which tells you if your phone's performance is being throttled due to the battery. Right now, there are no options to change anything within the menu. Maximum Capacity should be at 100% for newer phones, and it should fall down to around 80% over the course of about two years of normal use. A Redditor on the iOSBeta forum uploaded a photo of his iPhone 7, which is sitting at 87% capacity. That device still shows peak performance.

On older devices with a worse battery, the phone will show that reduced Maximum Capacity, as well as detail any performance slowdowns due to the decreased battery capacity. On devices that have weaker batteries, the Peak Performance Capability will change to read "This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again." A small blue hyperlink then says "Disable," which lets you manually turn off your iPhone's performance management.

Music

Apple Homepod Review: Locked In (theverge.com) 73

On Tuesday, the review embargo lifted for full reviews of Apple's new HomePod smart speaker. The Verge's Niley Patel shared his thoughts on Apple's new HomePod in video and written form. Patel found that while it offers best-in-class sound for the price, Siri is frustratingly limited and the voice controls only work with Apple Music. Furthermore, Siri can't tell different voices apart, therefore raising some privacy concerns as anyone can come up to the speaker and ask Siri to send and read text messages and other private information aloud. Here's an excerpt from the report: The HomePod, whether Apple likes it or not, is the company's answer to the wildly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Apple is very insistent that the $349 HomePod has been in development for the past six years and that it's entirely focused on sound quality, but it's entering a market where Amazon is advertising Alexa as a lovable and well-known character during the Super Bowl instead of promoting its actual features. Our shared expectations about smart speakers are beginning to settle in, and outside of engineering labs and controlled listening tests, the HomePod has to measure up. And while it's true that the HomePod sounds incredible -- it sounds far better than any other speaker in its price range -- it also demands that you live entirely inside Apple's ecosystem in a way that even Apple's other products do not. The question is: is beautiful sound quality worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden? As for technical specifications, the HomePod comes in at 6.8 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and weights 5.5 pounds. It features a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier, six-microphone array, internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming, and transparent studio-level dynamic processing.
Iphone

Apple Is Seeing 'Strong Demand' For Replacement iPhone Batteries (reuters.com) 83

In a letter addressed to the U.S. lawmakers, Apple said earlier this month that it was seeing "strong demand" for replacement iPhone batteries. The company added that it may offer rebates for consumers who paid full price for new batteries. From a report: Apple confirmed in December that software to deal with aging batteries in iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE models could slow down performance. The company apologized and lowered the price of battery replacements for affected models from $79 to $29. In the letter released Tuesday, amid nagging allegations that it slowed down phones with older batteries as a way to push people into buying new phones, the company said it was considering issuing rebates to consumers who paid full price for replacement batteries.
The Almighty Buck

New York's $6 Billion Plan For Offshore Wind Shows That Oil Drilling Really Is On the Way Out (businessinsider.com) 399

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a plan earlier this month to develop $6 billion of offshore wind projects off the southern coast of Long Island by 2028 and predicted that the industry would bring 5,000 jobs to the state. The plan calls for developing 2.4 gigawatts -- enough to power 1.2 million homes -- by 2030. It's all part of New York's Clean Energy Standard, which requires 50% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources like solar and wind. The move comes as President Donald Trump earlier this month announced a five-year plan to open up areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

"While the federal government continues to turn its back on protecting natural resources and plots to open up our coastline to drilling, New York is doubling down on our commitment to renewable energy and the industries of tomorrow," Cuomo said in a statement. Cuomo has asked Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke for an exemption from the drilling plan, saying in an open letter that the plan "undermines New York's efforts to combat climate change by shifting from greenhouse gas emitting fossil energy sources to renewable sources, such as offshore wind." The report identifies a 1 million acre site approximately 20 miles south of Long Island that would best support the wind turbines, and "ensure that, for the vast majority of the time, turbines would have no discernible or visible impact from the casual viewer on the shore."
The report also notes that New Jersey announced a similar plan last Wednesday to develop 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity off its coast.
The Courts

What We Learned From Day 1 of the Uber and Alphabet Trial (arstechnica.com) 25

Recode highlights the presentations each side gave on Day 1 in the Waymo v. Uber trial: Alphabet's self-driving arm, Waymo, and Uber gave their opening statements in front of a jury on Monday, commencing the courtroom phase of what has already been a messy legal battle. The day was entirely about opening arguments, but both Uber's and Waymo's strategy centers largely on one thing: Our opponent stooped to the levels they did because they were afraid we would beat them. Uber claims Waymo's lawsuit is baseless and is only suing because they were upset they were losing top talent at a time when competing companies began gaining ground. Waymo claims Uber was worried about getting beat in the self-driving car race so it stole Waymo's trade secrets when it hired one of its former executives. If Uber loses the case, it could have to pay out millions of dollars in damages and potentially stall its self-driving efforts. For Waymo, losing the case will have largely reputational risks. Alphabet rarely, if ever, sues over any issues with people or other companies, which means this litigation carries a lot of weight.

Uber as the defense doesn't have to prove anything, just cast enough doubt on Waymo's claims. Waymo has to prove both motivation on the part of Uber to intentionally steal trade secrets, and that the information Uber stole was proprietary. "That was quite the story," Uber attorney Bill Carmody said in his opening statement. "I want to tell you right up front. It didn't happen, there's no conspiracy, there's no cheating, period end of story." It'll be up to the jury to determine if Waymo has presented enough evidence to prove that not only did Uber steal trade secrets, that the company was using them in their current self-driving technology. Painting Waymo as a company that was growing increasingly concerned over losing top engineers to Uber -- in addition to harboring personal grievances against Levandowski -- could help the ride-hail company convince the jury that Waymo had ulterior motives with its lawsuit.
Recode has a detailed list in their report of all the evidence Uber and Waymo presented against one another, as well as their strategies going forward.
Google

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos (theverge.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."
Businesses

Tablet Shipments Decline For 13th Straight Quarter (venturebeat.com) 149

The tablet market has now declined year-over-year for 13 quarters straight. From a report: Q4 2017 saw a 7.9 percent year-over-year decline: 49.6 million units shipped worldwide, compared to 53.8 million units in the same quarter last year. The only silver lining is that declines for 2017 haven't been in the double-digits, like they were in 2016.
Power

Tesla To Construct 'Virtual Solar Power Plant' Using 50,000 Homes (cleantechnica.com) 199

Long-time Slashdot readers denbesten, haruchai, and Kant all submitted this story. CleanTechnica reports: Tesla and the government of South Australia have announced a stunning new project that could change how electricity is generated not only in Australia but in every country in the world. They plan to install rooftop solar system on 50,000 homes in the next four years and link them them together with grid storage facilities to create the largest virtual solar power plant in history. And here's the kicker: The rooftop solar systems will be free. The cost of the project will be recouped over time by selling the electricity generated to those who consume it.

"We will use people's homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills," says South Australia's premier Jay Weatherill. "More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians..." Price predicts utility bills for participating households will be slashed by 30%.

Electrek reports that the project will result in at least 650 MWh of additional energy storage capacity, and Tesla points out that "At key moments, the virtual power plant could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant."
Media

Are Music CDs Dying? Best Buy Stops Selling CDs (complex.com) 295

An anonymous reader quotes Complex magazine: The future of physical music isn't looking good. According to Billboard, consumer electronics company Best Buy will no longer carry physical CDs and Target may be following suit in the near future. Best Buy notified music suppliers that they will cease selling CDs at stores beginning July 1. The move is sure to hurt the already declining sales of CDs as consumers are switching to streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal in large numbers. CD sales have already dropped by a sizable 18.5 percent in the past year, Billboard reports.
Billboard also reports Target has given an "ultimatum" to music and video suppliers. "Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit... Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants CDs to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis..."

"If the majors don't play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format."

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