Remote villagers in Andes found to have developed tolerance to arsenic

in science on (#4C5F)

story imageIt is one of the most toxic substances known to man and has been used to poison kings, emperors and even prize winning racehorses. Worldwide arsenic poisoning caused by contaminated water and food is thought to harm more than 137 million people. Even low levels of arsenic poisoning can cause damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver, leading to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But scientists have discovered one small population of people living in a remote part of the Andes in north west Argentina who have developed some resistance to arsenic. They have found that over thousands of years the local inhabitants there have developed a genetic ability to metabolise the arsenic to reduce the impact it has on their bodies. They found one gene in particular - AS3MT, which is thought to play a role in arsenic metabolism - occurred in far higher frequencies compared to populations living in Columbia and Peru.

Blackphone 2: improved focus on security

in mobile on (#47JJ)

story image"Blackphone 2 caters to the enterprise, the security-minded and the paranoid" they say, and these days, that is a slogan that just might catch your attention. It caught mine.
While much of the news coming out of MWC 2015 has been dominated by Microsoft's Lumia 640, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, and tablets from Sony, there's always room for something a little different. Following on from the security-focused Blackphone, Silent Circle used the Barcelona event to announce the follow-up -- the Blackphone 2. The privacy-centric company has been working on the "world's first enterprise privacy platform" for some time now and the second generation Blackphone. As you would expect, there's a faster processor than before -- an 8-core beast -- as well as an upgraded 3GB RAM, a larger 5.5 inch screen and a bigger battery than before. Blackphone 2 has a $600 price tag and will be unleashed in July.
I might not be the only one frustrated with the Android-vs-Apple smartphone duopoly, and I'm sure I'm not the only one annoyed with the feeling that my phone was rooted since the moment I took it out of the box. Here's wishing good fortune to an alternative that makes security and privacy paramount.

XFCE release 4.12 brings refinement and improvements

in linux on (#47JH)

After 2 years and 10 months, XFCE 4.12 has been released, and its changelog is an impressive list of refinements, improvements, and new features.

For starters, they've streamlined the code, removing a whole host of options the developers decided were no longer the best way to accomplish common tasks. The minimize/maximize buttons are gone now, and all apps run full-screen all the time. You can access a subset of options via keystroke combinations (sadly, these haven't been documented yet but they should be obvious).

Oh wait, just kidding. Must have been thinking about some other desktop environment there. Seriously, have a look at the user-friendly improvements the XFCE team has worked into this release.

Check out the link for a multiple-page change log of significant features, including improvements to alt-tab dialogues, panel features, usage with multiple monitors, a move to GTK3, and more. XFCE remains independent of Linux-specific system features, and instead designed a front-end/back-end approach that allows it to work equally well on Linux, the BSDs, and beyond. As a BSD-user, I'm immensely proud. Finally, note throughout the press release the number of times they mention listening to their users and implementing the features that users said they wanted. More than one other major project could benefit from a similar approach to working with its community.

[Edit 2015-03-02 22:25 There was a very important "just kidding" sentence between paragraphs 2 and 3 that was important, because paragraph 2 is a joke. I've re-added it; otherwise I would expect to be flamed alive by angry XFCEers wondering why i'm such an idiot].

HP, Dell, Juniper offering white-box commodity network switches

in hardware on (#44V7)

HP has become the latest “legacy” IT vendor to announce it would ship commodity switches for web-scale data centers that support network management software other than its own. HP Switches will run the Cumulus Linux OS. The company claims the approach can reduce data center operating costs by up to 68 percent. HP’s competitors Dell and Juniper have already announced open commodity network switches of their own. Dell said it would ship data center switches with a Linux-based network operating systems by Cumulus Networks or by Big Switch Networks, as alternatives to its own network OS, last year. Notably, Cisco has not introduced commodity switches. The world’s largest data center networking vendor has built an empire selling tightly coupled hardware-and-software bundles, and cheap open network hardware is a threat to its dominance. However, Cisco too has been slowly offering more software-defined networking/OpenFlow features and compatibility in their hardware.

Internet giants, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, which operate massive data centers around the world, have found it more effective to design their own hardware and have so-called “Original Design Manufacturers,” the likes of Taiwan’s Quanta and Foxconn, manufacture it for them. The trend has created a problem for incumbent IT vendors, such as HP, Dell, IBM, and Cisco, which found themselves competing with contract manufacturers of their products for the same high-volume deals. Facebook, through its Open Compute Project, offers design specs and has spread awareness about cost effectiveness of this IT procurement model. There is now growing interest in low-cost commodity hardware among enterprises who are not necessarily Internet giants, creating a new threat to the incumbents’ market share.

Telescopic Contact Lenses Are Here

in science on (#42JM)

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a pair of telescopic contact lenses with 2.8x magnification. Really just a pair of super-tiny aluminum telescopes, the contacts are still only about 1.5 millimeters thick, and feature 1 mm-wide channels or pores that allow the required breathability — maintaining airflow. This last part proved to be one of the biggest challenges, requiring years of experimentation.

While the contacts do all the work, they currently require polarized glasses to turn the magnification on or off. That said, the researchers are working towards an on/off capability — activated by winking. "We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and age-related macular degeneration (AMD)." But will a wider and more general user-base be interested in contact lenses that covertly give them super-human telescopic vision?

Live Long and Prosper, Leonard Nimoy

in space on (#3Z6H)

It is a sad day for Science Fiction and film fans.

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

The New York Times has the details.

Live long and prosper, Leonard.

NOTE to Editor: We need more categories.

The FCC has approved Net Neutrality rules and declared Broadband a Utility

in internet on (#3Z6G)

As has been reported everywhere, the FCC has approved Net Neutrality rules and declared broadband a Utility.

The text of the document is probably worth scanning, at least.

Apple entering the car business

in apple on (#3T6W)

story imageYou've got an Apple product on your desk, and you've got another in your pocket. You might even have one on your wrist. But is the next step something for your garage?

Many outlets are reporting that Apple has recently indulged in a spate of poaching, picking up battery and automotive engineers from leading car makers and battery suppliers in the EV industry. That leads to more than just casual speculation that Apple is working on an automotive product of some sort. Will your next car be an Apple product? At the moment we don't know much, but it is beginning to seem at least a little bit likely.

TV Is Dying, Broadband Declining

in internet on (#3T6V)

story imageThe pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever. Ratings for both cable and the broadcast networks are down. There has been negative ratings growth on broadcast and cable TV since September 2011. The number of U.S. households is still growing, but fewer households have TV because they are watching video on mobile devices instead. The amount of video viewed on mobile devices is going through the roof. About 40% of all YouTube traffic comes from mobile.

Broadband internet was supposed to benefit from the end of cable TV, but it hasn't; people are also unplugging from broadband internet service. Most are likely utilizing free wifi hotspots provided by businesses, campuses and some cities. Fifty-seven cities in the U.S., including Los Angeles, offer free wifi; anyone within range of a hotspot can avoid the monthly fees.

Cable TV ratings are in an historic slump, but revenues are still rising because companies are charging the dwindling number of customers more in subscription fees. Those higher prices are "part of the problem" that pushes out poor subscribers — losing the TV business even more eyeballs. This is having a counter-intuitive effect on TV ad sales: prices are going up. It's still really difficult to gather a large, mass audience in any kind of media. That scarcity makes TV's dwindling-but-still-big audience increasingly valuable... for now. Ad dollars are likely to follow that shift in the long run.

Late lament on the death of slide-out keyboards

in mobile on (#3NZG)

story imageIsn't it strange how all the high-end smartphones with keyboards have disappeared? There isn't a desirable smartphone with a keyboard on the horizon. The original Motorola Droid was the phone that started the Android phenomenon, yet the Droid 5 never materialized.

For years, buying a smartphone with a keyboard has meant settling for less than the latest and greatest technology on the market. There hasn't been a top-tier smartphone with keyboard since the Samsung Epic 4G set the bar in August, 2010. The carriers treat sliders as messaging phones for teens rather than tools of pros, and adjusted their asks and advertising respectively. There’s also the myth that there’s an Android phone out there for everyone. The differences in Android phones were huge. Slide-out keyboard, small screen, large screen, slim or bulky. Now it seems like phones are all merging into the same basic design principle; slim with a huge screen, leaving a market gap that any competitor could jump into, much the way Android did when the one-size-fits-all iPhone dominated.

When Android came along and smartphones began to take off, handsets with keyboards did very well for Sprint. The Samsung Moment, the EVO Shift, the Epic 4G: "We sold multimillions of those," said Kaufman. When Sprint asked customers whether they'd buy a physical keyboard the next time around — not so long ago — 75 percent of existing QWERTY users said they would. "We went out and built the LG Mach and the Photon Q. It was a big party and nobody came." So much for surveys. "Half of your customers buy the iPhone [...] boom, take them out of the equation." In addition, "the market has moved to everyone buying iconic phones... people see the advertising, they walk in, they want to buy a Galaxy S III."

You might be thinking a slide-out keyboard is old technology, but there are advantages. People can type much faster and error-free on hardware keyboards. Being able to see everything on screen is a huge plus, and playing games is infinitely more enjoyable with tactile, mechanical buttons.

As a devout user of physical QWERTY keyboards, I'm pretty sure I'm screwed.