Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


N. Joseph Woodland Died at Age 91

Posted by JenThorpe at 4:14 AM on December 15, 2012

bigstock-Barcode-18830351You might not immediately recognize the name of Norman Joseph Woodland, but it is safe to say that you are very familiar with his work. He was one of the inventors of the bar code, the zebra-like series of lines that is on most, if not all, product packaging. It is the code that the cashier scans whenever you make a purchase.

The concept of using a series of lines and spaces came to him one day as he was on a beach in Miami, Florida. He used his fingers to draw four lines into the sand, and realized that he could use bars of different thickness and thinness instead of dots and dashes.

He was a graduate student at the time and was working with a classmate named Bernard Silver, (who died in 1963). In 1949, the two submitted their patent for a code that had concentric circles and resembled a bull’s eye. The patent was issued in 1952.

The technology for the now familiar bar code didn’t exist until the 1970′s. A team at IBM’s Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina, were the ones to develop a barcode-reading laser scanner system. N. Joseph Woodland was part of that team. The decision to create it was to satisfy a demand from grocers who were seeking a way to automate and speed up checkout (while, at the same time, cutting down on product handling and inventory management costs).

Norman Joseph Woodland, the man behind the “beeps” you hear when you are watching the cashier scan your purchase, died at the age of 91. You may not have known his name, but you saw his invention every day.

Image Stock Photo Barcode by BigStock

GigaPan Shows You Every Face in the Crowd

Posted by JenThorpe at 5:57 PM on December 1, 2012

GigaPan brings you Gigapan images that you can explore by zooming in, zooming out, and moving the image around. This is a whole new way to look at photography, and it combines very nicely with social media.

What’s a Gigapan? Gigapans are gigapixel panoramas. They are digital images that have billions of pixels. They have a clarity that other photos simply do not, and they do not get “fuzzy” even when you zoom in to pick out the faces in the crowd.

They have several galleries for you to browse through. One gallery has images from Hurricane Sandy. Others let you explore celestial images, cityscapes, or underwater. This is definitely a website that a person can go to “just for a minute” and end spending much longer than a minute exploring.

The most interesting gallery, at least to me, is the one called “Capture the Crowd”. It has Gigapan images of several different sporting events. I’m not big on sports, so the part that captured my attention was the fact that you really can zoom into the Gigapan image in order to see individual people who were in the stands watching that game.

It’s a little weird to think about. On the one hand, these people all knew that they were in a public place, and probably realized that a television camera might pick up their image. One might assume that they consented to having their photo taken under these circumstances. If you attending a particular sporting event or concert, you could search for yourself in the crowd and then tag yourself.

On the other hand, I doubt very many of the people who went to the events know that there could be a Gigapan image of the event they attended. The incredibly clear image, and the ability to literally scan the entire crowd for someone, could make some people feel as though their privacy has been violated.

Oh, and there is the potential that your friend who went to the event with you could decided to tag you as well as himself. Those tags will connect to both of your Facebook pages, and anyone who wants to can easily find exactly where you were seated at the event.

This might not be so great for people who faked a sick day in order to get out of work so they could go watch the game. However, it is really awesome for people who want to have a unique memento that proves that they really were there!

The Korg MicroStation Does it All

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:45 AM on November 28, 2012

Korg has something that I think every musician can use. It’s called the MicroStation. It solves a lot of the problems that many musicians face when they are trying to create and record music at home, (or outside of a professional music studio).

The MicroStation has a compact 61-key Natural Touch Mini-Keyboard that is way more portable than a standard sized keyboard could ever be. The proportion of black keys and white keys has been adjusted in a way that makes chords more comfortable to play. The smaller size is nice for musicians who do not have a dedicated studio to keep all of their equipment in.

It has an intuitive onboard sequencer for recording. New features include Loop Recording and Visual Grid Sequencing. It also has several hundred sounds that include a variety of drum kits and audition riffs.

This is useful if you want to add some drums or other percussion into a song, but don’t have access to a full drum kit to play it on, or knowledge about how to properly record a drum kit. It also allows you to drop a riff or a drum track into your song, and test it out. If you don’t like what you selected, you can easily remove it.

There are four real-time control knobs that can be used for convenient sound editing or for performing with the arpeggiator. Turn the External switch on, and the knobs can be used to control a MIDI device. It even comes with a joystick for more expressive potential.

The MicroStation is also bundled with helpful software: the “MicroStation Editor” and the “MicroStation Plug-In Editor”. The MicroStation also provides an SD card slot that you can save your Programs onto. You can also save the Combinations you selected and song data directly onto an SD/SDHC card.

It also comes with a nice price. The Korg MicroStation is available at a variety of retailers in the United States for $399. That’s a great price for a drum kit, a keyboard, and recording and editing software, all in one package.

Image by Korg

Using Technology in the Classroom

Posted by JenThorpe at 2:58 AM on November 26, 2012

Two teachers who live halfway around the world from each other figured out a really interesting way to get students engaged in learning something new. They are incorporating technology into their classroom in order to utilize the technology in “real world” scenarios.

St. Patrick’s Catholic School, in Arroyo Grande, California, used Skype to connect with another classroom. The fifth-graders from California had no idea where the students in the other classroom were located.

They had to ask the other students yes/no questions in order to gather enough information to be able to make an educated guess about where in the world the other students were located. It turned out that the other classroom was located in Fairfield West Primary School in Fairfield, (which is a suburb of Sydney), Australia.

The American students used their school iPads to create a short autobiography which they will share with the Australian students. The kids are learning that the iPad can be used for more than playing games and reading ebooks. The students are also going to be working in groups of four, (two from the US and two from AU) in a project where they will explore ways to conserve the ocean.

I think this is awesome! These kids are learning that Skype can be used to talk to someone who is in another country. They are going to learn how to work on a project with people who are not in the same room with them.

These are skills that the students are going to need to use in “real world” situations in the future. It sounds like they are getting the basic idea about how to have an online meeting and how to work on a project with co-workers who are at a different location from where they are. Imagine what the fifth-graders that learned in school how to do a collaborative online project with students from around the world will be able to do when they become adults!

Learn How to Code with the Bright Eyes Kit

Posted by JenThorpe at 3:58 PM on November 11, 2012

As a former teacher, I know that the best way to encourage people to learn something new is to make it fun! That’s why The Bright Eyes Kit on Kickstarter got my attention. It is a DIY kit that is designed to encourage people to learn programing.

The Bright Eyes Kit comes with a pair of glasses that have 174 LEDs and a micro SD card. The first thing you need to do is put the glasses together. The video describes this process as being easier than IKEA. Once you have the glasses put together, it is time to learn how to program the LEDs.

The kit talks you through the process in a way that will encourage people who have never done programming before to give it a try. Ultimately, you will learn how to program the lights on your glasses to flash in a specific way.

Make the lights respond to graphics, animations, or whatever else sounds fun to you. Connect your glasses to your Twitter account and let the LEDs flash to your Tweets. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and interest in learning how to make it work.

They recently added a microphone that you can use to program your Bright Eyes glasses to respond to sound. If that doesn’t interest you, perhaps you would prefer to play around with an ambient light sensor that you can attach to the glasses instead.

The Bright Eyes glasses look really cool and are attention getters. I could see Elton John, or Lady Gaga, wearing them. Code them, wear them out in public, and you are certain to have someone start a conversation with you about your Bright Eyes glasses. All of the code will be open source and freely available. Learn to code, and have some fun doing it!

For more information, check out this video from the Bright Eyes Kit on Kickstarter.

Biodegradable Server Chassis

Posted by JenThorpe at 3:10 AM on November 9, 2012

No matter how much we would like them to, the truth is that servers do not last forever. They last for a few years, and then it is time to replace them with a newer one. What do you do with the old one? Many people recycle them. This is better than throwing them into the trash, but recycling still uses energy and creates waste.

There could be a better solution. Perdue’s College of Technology has a new entrepreneurship program called Tech Ventures. It has teamed up with Open Compute, which was founded by Facebook. They have created an interesting competition. Teams of up to three students can register to enter a challenge to make a server chassis that is biodegradable.

Ultimately, the hope is that the winning design for a biodegradable server chassis will result the creation of more computer parts that can be composted instead of recycled. Imagine being able to put your old computer into your compost bin where it will break down naturally! This concept, of course, has a very long way to go before it can become reality. The first step towards a greener type of server chassis is through the Open Compute Challenge.

Each team that competes in this challenge will get a server to use. The team that creates the winning design will get a trip to attend the Open Compute Summit where they will be able to present the winning design to information technology industry leaders. Perdue will help the winning team to create a prototype of their design for a biodegradable server chassis.

Image: Stock Vector Images by BigStock

Pumpktris Combines Tetris and Pumpkin Carving

Posted by JenThorpe at 3:22 AM on October 30, 2012

Here is the most awesome pumpkin that I have seen this Halloween! Nathan at the HaHaBird blog has created Pumpktris.The result is a pumpkin that you can actually play a modified version of the classic video game Tetris on. It involves LED lights that are connected on a matrix, some soldering, lots of wire cutting, drilling holes for the LED lights, and a whole lot of dedication and skill.

Many people have played Tetris, but few have played it on an pumpkin that has been “upgraded” to become a unique form of video game console! The stem of the pumpkin functions as the controller. Move it around to maneuver the Tetris “blocks” as they fall. From a player standpoint, it appears to be as simple to play Pumpktris as it was to play the classic Tetris game. I am so impressed by the amount of planning and work that went into the creation of Pumpktris!

There is an excellent step-by-step tutorial on how to create your own Pumpktris on the HaHaBird blog. I’m not sure if you will have time to attempt this for Halloween this year, unless you have today and tomorrow off of work, and no specific plans for celebrating. If not, then you have a whole year’s worth of time to plan it out for next Halloween.

The FTC Wants You to Battle Robocallers

Posted by JenThorpe at 12:33 AM on October 19, 2012

Are you tired of those annoying calls that are nothing more than a recorded sales pitch? Could you use $50,000? Are you good at creating technical solutions to problems? If so, then you should consider entering the FTC Robocall Challenge.

Robocalls can be described as a recorded message that is played as soon as (or sometimes, even before), a person picks up the phone. They are automatically dialed, and the audio quality is often very poor. People who receive these unwanted phone calls immediately realize that there isn’t an actual human on the other end of the line. A robot called them. The person then hangs up the phone, and grumbles about having his or her dinner interrupted.

The Federal Trade Commission is interested in battling robocallers for several reasons, (and not simply because they are annoying). These types of calls often consist of a sales pitch that is intentionally deceptive. The majority of robocalls are illegal because they break the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. A person has to have given the commercial robocaller advance written permission to call them. If that permission has not been granted, then the telemarketer, (robotic or not) should not be calling.

The FTC Robocall Challenge can be entered for free. It is open to the public. Entries will be accepted as soon as October 25, 2012, and they will continue to be accepted until January 17, 2013. The FTC wants innovators to create solutions that will block illegal robocalls.

Your solution needs to block robocalls on both landlines and mobile phones. It must be able to operate on a proprietary or nonproprietary device or platform. You can enter the contest with a proposed technical solution, a functional solution, or proof of concept.

The individual, team, or small corporation (that employs less than 10 people), with the Best Overall Solution will win $50,000 in cash and a trip to Washington D.C to present the solution. Others will receive a Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award. This is an honorary award that does not come with a cash prize.

Judging will be based on three criteria. Does it work? 50% of the score will be based on the answer to that question. Is it easy to use? That’s another 25%. The remaining 25% is based on another question. Can it be rolled out? Humanity’s battle against the robots is about to begin!

Image: A Fun Group Of Robot Toys by BigStock

Olympic Technology

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2012

Did you know that when they run track at this Olympics, that for the first time all runners will hear the gun at the same time. Before this because of the way sound travels the racer on the far side of the track from the starter pistol always heard the sound a millisecond after the racer near the starter pistol. This may not seem like a lot, but it could be the difference between a Gold and a Bronze medal. In these Olympics there will be a sound speaker behind each starter block so all runners will hear the sound at the same time. Each start block will have a pressure pad in it, if any runner releases the pressure faster than one-tenth of a second after the pistol is fired, it will be considered a false start. The finish will be measured by an Omega Quantum Timer which is accurate to a thousands of a second. Some racers will wear a suit made by Nike called the Pro Turbo Speed that has dimples in it like a golf ball which will cut down on wind resistance. There is some controversy over these suits, because some say they give an unfair advantage to those who can afford them. Their supporters simply say that they are just using the technology that is available to them.

Track isn’t the only sports where technology is playing a role in these Olympics.  Taekwondo contestants will be wear cloths and pads with sensors in them, so that every hit will be counted.

Not all the technology that is being used is for the athletes,  some is so that the spectators can see the events better. One example of this is synchronized swimming. Synchronize swimming has been traditional hard to film, because part of the action is below water and part above. Water reflex lights differently then air which makes syncing shots from above and below water very difficult. Historically it had required a lot of post work. NHK a Japanese company has created Twinscam, which combines images from two lens one above and one below water. This creates an almost flawless image of the swimmer.

So as you are watching the Olympics, remember that technology is not only being used to show you the games, but to allow the athletes to be swifter, higher, stronger.

New MacBook Pro With Retina Display Unfixable?

Posted by AndrewH at 2:52 PM on June 14, 2012

The brave souls at ifixit.org ripped apart the new MacBook Pro that Planet Earth has been raving about since Apple announced their newest laptop (with now-legendary retina display) and found something startling.

“This is, to date, the least repairable laptop we’ve taken apart,” the ifixit.org team announced in a June 13th blog post, just a few days after the official announcement at Apple’s annual developer’s conference.

The folks at ifixit.org (kind of like Will It Blend, without the blender….and with the ability to put things back together) pried apart the new MacBook Pro to find that it going to be really hard to fix, ,should anything go wrong. The full details of the teardown are here, but the basic theme of their findings is as follows:

  • special screws proprietary to Apple are impossible to remove without a special tool
  • key parts (RAM, Battery) are fixed into place with either no way to remove or upgrade, or fixed in such particularly perilous way (the battery is glued to the case, rather than screwed into)
  • display assembly is fused together with no opportunity to fetch something dropped in.

They gave it a 1/10 score in terms of repairability, stating “the new MacBook Pro is virtually non-upgradeable—making it the first MacBook Pro that will be unable to adapt to future advances in memory and storage technology.”

Photo Credit: Computer Repair from Big Stock Photo