Tech News courtesy of Ars Technica
- Google overhauls Android camera app with new interface and bokeh effects
- New “solar thermal fuel” has energy density of lead batteries
- Neil Young’s music-player Kickstarter closes at $6.2 million
- Galaxy S5 bill of materials estimated at $250, more than iPhone and S4
- Lavabit held in contempt of court for printing crypto key in tiny font [Updated]
- Google: Still no plans to bring Fiber to New York
- Verizon led massive astroturf campaign to end NJ broadband obligation
- Halo, Destiny score composer “terminated” from Bungie
- Is US biomedical research heading for a breakdown?
- Microsoft brings a “data culture” to the Internet of Things
The Android camera app has usually been the worst part of stock Android devices, but it looks like Google is finally going to change that. The company has just released a revamped version of the "Google Camera" app to the Play Store. The new app has an entirely new interface that does away with the nasty sliding arc controls of the old version.
Google Camera is compatible with any device running KitKat and up, which means you can replace the terrible stock camera app—plus you have the option of dumping your skinned OEM app for Google's version.
Besides opening up the "PhotoSphere" 360-degree panorama feature to more devices, the app also adds a fake depth-of-field mode, which is all the rage nowadays. Google's version is pretty clever. While HTC added an entire extra camera and Samsung just used raw computing guess-work, Google lets you take a picture of the subject and then move the camera upward so it can capture the subject from a second angle. It works pretty well, especially if you go to the settings and turn on the "high quality" mode.
Right now, photovoltaic devices are the cheapest, most efficient way to harvest the energy in sunlight. The problem is that this energy ends up in the form of electricity, which we have difficulty storing in a cost-effective manner. An alternative approach, solar thermal energy, converts solar energy to heat and can use that heat to continue generating power for several hours after the Sun goes down. But that's not enough to make solar an around-the-clock energy source.
Researchers are apparently working on a third option, one that could potentially store energy indefinitely. It goes by the name of "solar thermal fuel," but it's not a fuel in the traditional sense. Rather than breaking apart the fuel molecule through combustion, solar thermal fuels release heat by rearranging bonds within a molecule, leaving all the atoms in place. As a result, they can be recycled repeatedly—in the example that introduced me to solar thermal fuels, a research team ran theirs through more than 2,000 cycles with no loss in performance.
How do you get energy into and out of a molecule without breaking any bonds? In this case, the authors worked with derivatives of a chemical called azobenzene, shown below. The double bond between the two nitrogens forces the remaining bonds into one of two forms: either both of the rings can be on opposite sides of the molecule (top, called the "trans" form) or they can be on the same side (bottom, called "cis").
PonoPlayer, the Toblerone-shaped portable media player launched last month by classic rocker Neil Young, closed its Kickstarter campaign yesterday with a grand total of $6.2 million. That number makes Pono the third-highest Kickstarter campaign ever, trailing the Pebble smartwatch and the Ouya video game console.
After blasting off to the tune of roughly $1.6 million in one day, the player, which staked its reputation on replicating "studio-quality" sound by way of lossless, high-frequency audio and hardware engineering, maintained its sales momentum by adding a slew of limited-edition sales options. The most prominent was the "Artist Signature" series, which came in a whopping 31 varieties and included laser-engraved signatures and hand-selected, pre-loaded albums by a particular artist or band, with offerings from Elton John, The Eagles, Metallica, Arcade Fire, and plenty in between. Yes, you could buy both Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young versions of the Pono.
Additionally, Pono offered tickets to four "VIP dinner and listening party" events at $5,000 a pop; those Young-hosted events raked in $480,000 alone.
IHS has released another one of its trademark bill of materials (BoM) estimates. This time, the subject of the teardown is Samsung's newest flagship, the Galaxy S5. The company pegs the BoM of a 32GB Galaxy S5 at $251.52.
A BoM estimate only accounts for the physical parts in a phone—it doesn't include R&D, marketing, software, or a myriad of other costs associated with getting a smartphone to market—but it's still interesting to compare across devices. $250 might not seem like a lot for a $600 smartphone, but it seems Samsung is having to deal with rising costs over the years. The S5 BoM estimate is higher than that of the S4 ($236) and S3 ($205). It's also higher than the much smaller iPhone 5s, which is estimated to be $207.
A good chunk of that $250 goes to the 5.1-inch, 1080p AMOLED display, which IHS says costs $63. The next highest item is the 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 SoC, which—including the cellular modem—costs $41.00.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a contempt of court ruling against Ladar Levison and his now-defunct encrypted e-mail service provider, Lavabit LLC, for hindering the government's investigation into the National Security Agency leaks surrounding Edward Snowden.
In the summer of 2013, Lavabit was ordered to provide real-time e-mail monitoring of one particular user of the service, believed to be Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower. Instead of adequately complying with the order to turn over the private SSL keys that protected his company's tens of thousands of users from the government's prying eyes, Levison chose instead to shut down Lavabit last year after weeks of stonewalling the government.
Levison reluctantly turned over his encryption keys to the government, although not in a manner that the government deemed useful—he provided a lengthy printout in tiny type, a move the authorities said was objectionable. “The company had treated the court orders like contract negotiations rather than a legal requirement,” US Attorney Andrew Peterson, who represented the government, told PC World.
It would certainly be a nice consolation prize for a city bemoaning the comical failure of the New York Knicks. But Google says there are no such plans."Don't read into the job listing," a Google spokesperson told Ars. "We've had a full team of folks working on Fiber in the New York office (and other locations around the world) for years. We don't currently have any plans to bring Google Fiber to New York. We're entirely focused on building out our networks in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, and on exploring the possibility of bringing Fiber to the 34 locations we announced in February."
The job listing is for a regional sales manager position and says, "You will manage multiple teams that evangelize Google Fiber services to MDU (multi-dwelling apartments and condos) and large SMB owners. You will hire and manage a team that proactively reaches out and articulates how Google Fiber Solutions can help make their work more productive." The successful applicant will "lead and motivate multiple sales teams across multiple locations."
Verizon doesn't want to deploy high-speed wired broadband service to all New Jersey residents, despite receiving financial perks from the state for the past 20 years in exchange for building a statewide network.
To make sure it doesn't have to complete the buildout to all of New Jersey's 8.9 million residents, Verizon led an astroturf campaign that flooded the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) with hundreds of identical e-mails purporting to support Verizon's case. One person who is listed as having written one of these e-mails told Ars that he didn't submit anything, and if he did, "I would've slammed them." A report in Stop the Cap this month found several other Verizon "supporters" who had no idea e-mails were submitted under their names.Before describing the astroturf campaign, here is a little background. Verizon is on the verge of getting state approval of a settlement eliminating an obligation to provide broadband service to the whole state by 2010. Instead of just getting service automatically, people who want broadband from Verizon would have to complete a "bonafide retail request" process and prove that they and at least 34 neighbors can't get service from anyone else. Even then, Verizon would have nine months to comply and could meet its newly lessened obligation by making 4G cellular service available through its subsidiary, Verizon Wireless.
Verizon predecessor New Jersey Bell agreed to the statewide broadband buildout in a 1993 agreement with the state. In exchange for a different form of price regulation that would allow the company to make more money, "Verizon agreed to upgrade its network to provide broadband to every Verizon New Jersey business and residential customer, school, and library for 100 percent of its service territory," according to the state's Division of Rate Counsel.
Late Tuesday night, Marty O'Donnell, the composer for the original Halo games trilogy, announced his firing from developer Bungie, where he had been serving as co-composer for upcoming first-person shooter Destiny.
"I'm saddened to say that Bungie's board of directors terminated me without cause on April 11, 2014," O'Donnell posted on his Twitter account. The decade-plus Bungie veteran did not offer any further clarification or comment. Within an hour, Bungie took to its news page with a brief farewell message that stated, in part, "Today, as friends, we say goodbye." We are tempted to assume that O'Donnell's use of "without cause" may bring Bungie's use of the word "friends" into question.
O'Donnell was last seen promoting the score of Destiny, which he had been composing with Paul McCartney and longtime Bungie collaborator Mike Salvatori. In the meantime, we're still waiting on more concrete details and gameplay of Bungie's latest online shooter.
It's no secret that biology research in the US is facing a number of challenges. After years of rapid growth, the funding for biomedical research has dropped by 25 percent in real dollar terms since 2003, leaving researchers scrambling to keep their labs running. Meanwhile, the system is still training far more graduates than there are faculty positions to fill. But it's tempting to think that taking care of the first by increasing the funding would help take care of the second.
"Don't kid yourself" seems to be the message of a perspective published this week by PNAS. The authors, Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus (most of whom helped create or expand the current system), say its current course is unsustainable without some deep-rooted reforms. The ones they suggest would produce far fewer graduates and research labs, but they're courses better equipped to keep biomedical research sustainable even without a large budget increase.
The grad student problem
The researchers identify a couple of major structural problems that have made the current system unsustainable. One is simply that graduate students represent the cheapest form of labor, and so graduate programs have expanded to keep researchers well supplied. The end result is that 8,000 people get a PhD in the biological sciences each year, far more than can ever hope to find faculty positions. Only about 20 percent of them end up staying in research positions, yet graduate education generally provides training in nothing but research.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was in San Francisco today to talk about data and Microsoft's data platform. Nadella repeatedly spoke of Microsoft's "data culture"—using data and analytics to enable employees to get the information they need to understand their work, answer questions, and make decisions. At the event, he celebrated the recent launch of SQL Server 2014 and announced a pair of other products: a preview of Azure Intelligent Systems Service and general availability of Analytics Platform System.
SQL Server 2014 has been available to developers and others for a few weeks. Its headline feature is broad support for in-memory databases with an engine previously codenamed "Hekaton." As one would expect, in-memory databases are substantially faster than ones stored on-disk. The in-memory database engine is limited in terms of the programmatic features it offers, but when it can be used, it can make operations 10 to 30 times faster.
Microsoft said that SQL Server 2014 has been developed in a different way from prior versions of the database server. It was described as "born in the cloud," developed for Azure and the cloud first. It includes a range of Azure-related features, too, such as backups to Azure.