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Any articles that I have linked to, and commented on.

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7th January 2020
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Jay Peters, writing at The Verge:

Today, at Samsung’s keynote at CES, Samsung introduced Ballie, a small ball-shaped robot intended to help you around the house. Samsung says Ballie utilizes AI to be a security robot, a fitness assistant, a tool to help seniors connect with smart devices in their homes, and it can even be a friend to your kids and pets.

In an onstage demo, Ballie followed Samsung consumer electronics division CEO H.S. Kim on the stage by rolling around, seemingly by using the camera to track Kim as he walked across the stage. Ballie also gave cute little robotic chimes in response to a couple of commands from Kim, and it even rolled right into Kim’s hands when he called for it.

I need one.

I don’t care about it opening the blinds, turning on TVs, or anything. I want a little robot that can make whimsical noises, look remotely like a BB8, play with my cat, and do absolutely nothing else.

Where do I send my money?

5th January 2020
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Bob Yirka, writing at Phys.org:

Three researchers from the University of Oxford and the South Iceland Nature Research Centre have found evidence of tool use by puffins—the first evidence of tool use by any seabird. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Annette Fayet, Erpur Snær Hansen and Dora Biro describe their evidence of puffins using sticks to scratch a part of their body.

[…]

The researchers note that the bird in their recording lived on Grimsey Island in Iceland, where birds suffer from parasites in their plumage. They further note that last year was known to be a particularly bad year for tick infestations. They suggest using a sharp stick might have been more effective at removing the pests than beaks. They also note that because they witnessed tool use in two locations separated by a wide distance, it appears likely that tool use among puffins is common.

11th December 2019
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John Wilander, writing at the WebKit blog:

Any kind of tracking prevention or content blocking that treats web content differently based on its origin or URL risks being abused itself for tracking purposes if the set of origins or URLs provide some uniqueness to the browser and webpages can detect the differing treatment.

To combat this, tracking prevention features must make it hard or impossible to detect which web content and website data is treated as capable of tracking. We have devised three ITP enhancements that not only fight detection of differing treatment but also improve tracking prevention in general.

You would have thought that simply preventing tracking would stop trackers. Well it turns out that if websites can see if you are using prevention tools, then you can still be singled out. John lists a few ways in which enhancements are being made to Intelligent Tracking Prevention in WebKit to combat this.

7th December 2019
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John Morrissey, writing at Phys.org:

Historians often trace the dawn of human civilization back 10,000 years, when Neolithic tribes first settled and began farming in the Fertile Crescent, which stretches through much of what we now call the Middle East. Prehistoric peoples domesticated plants to create the cereal crops we still grow today, and in the Zagros mountains of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, sheep, goats and cows were bred from their wild relatives to ensure a steady supply of meat and milk. But around the same time as plants and animals were tamed for agriculture, long before anyone even knew of microscopic life, early humans were domesticating microbes too.

In a paper published in Current Biology, we discovered how “milk yeast”—the handy microorganism that can decompose lactose in milk to create dairy products like cheese and yogurt—originated from a chance encounter between a fruit fly and a pail of milk around 5,500 years ago. This happy accident allowed prehistoric people to domesticate yeast in much the same way they domesticated crop plants and livestock animals, and produce the cheeses and yogurts billions of people enjoy today.

Well this sounds a bit interesting, let’s learn more:

Kluyveromyces lactis, or milk yeast, is found in French and Italian cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, and in natural fermented dairy drinks like kefir. But the ancestor of this microbe was originally associated with the fruit fly, so how did it end up making many of the dairy products that people eat today? We believe milk yeast owes its very existence to a fly landing in fermenting milk and starting an unusual sexual liaison. The fly in question was the common fruit fly, Drosophila, and it carried with it the ancestor of K. lactis. Although the fly died, the yeast lived, but with a problem—it could not use the lactose in milk as a food source. Instead, it found an unconventional solution—sex with its cousin.

Okay, I think I’m finished with the internet for tonight.

6th December 2019
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Natasha Daly, writing for National Geographic:

Why would an apex ocean predator eat gloves? Or rope? Or plastic cups? How does a whale end up with more than 200 pounds of waste in its stomach?

Last week, a ten-year-old whale was found dead on a beach in Scotland. A necropsy revealed 220 pounds of plastic and other trash congealed in clumps in his digestive system. The tragedy grabbed headlines—the sheer quantity of debris eclipsed that found in a growing number of similar cases: large whales discovered dead on beaches around the world with stomachs full of garbage.

I thought this would end up being quite a simple answer, but it turns out animals eat plastic for a whole host of reasons.

5th November 2019
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Thomas A. Fine, writing at Sentence Spacing:

So I was on twitter last month when Marcin Wichary asked “Any ideas on what this key/glyph was for in the early Sholes Glidden typewriter?”

This image is from a U.S. patent, applied for before the typewriter went to market, but it was definitely there on the first models.

It’s a fascinating piece of research, and I didn’t want to spoil it here. So I’d recommend reading the full piece, to see what the mysterious ⫶ character was used for.

5th November 2019
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Matt Birchler, writing at BirchTree:

I don’t know how to blame here, Twitter or Apple, but the Twitter app for Mac is really rough in its current form. Text editing specifically is really hard to justify and is not what I would expect from any app on the Mac.

I’ve been using the official Twitter app for macOS ever since it was available, and I’ve found it to be pretty reasonable. But just like Matt shows in this video, it still doesn’t feel completely at home on the Mac.

Hopefully improvements can be made to make it fit in with the macOS ecosystem. But I’m worried that this relies on changes to Catalyst, and potentially iOS, because this is essentially the iOS Twitter app. So I won’t be holding my breath. Maybe I’ll have to switch back to Tweetbot.

4th November 2019
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Alan Macleod, writing for Fair.org:

While not labeling its own wealthy and powerful elites as “oligarchs,” US corporate media do, as noted, occasionally acknowledge that the United States itself is an oligarchy. But even those admissions are few and far between, appearing for the most part only in articles devoted to arguing exactly that point. Otherwise, the US is overwhelmingly presented as a democracy and a force for good in reporting.

And when a politician like Bernie Sanders suggests that these oligarchs influence the media, senior editors react angrily, claiming he is “ridiculous” and a “conspiracy theorist.” What a strange country the US is—an oligarchy without any oligarchs.