Tag Archives: technology

Winners of the 2018 Robot Art Competition swap pixels for paintbrushes

The winning robot in the 2018 Robot Art Competition, CloudPainter

The Robot Art Competition is a fascinating blend of art and technology, challenging engineers to create robotic systems that can produce artworks using physical brushes and paint. The winners of the third annual competition highlight the growing sophistication and variety of machine-generated artwork.

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Category: Computers

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Yes, Nike’s $250 Vaporfly shoes really can make you faster

An exhaustive new analysis of Strava runners reveals that there’s something to Nike’s claims.

Last year Nike released the Vaporfly 4%, a shoe that could, in theory, make you 4% faster thanks to its magical, proprietary sole technology. A 4% boost is more significant than it sounds: Such a bump would, in theory, be enough to help a runner break the mythical two-hour marathon barrier for the first time. Today’s fastest runners are all about three minutes over the two-hour mark, but a 4% speed increase would shave almost five minutes off of those times. Meanwhile, a three-hour marathon runner would get a six-minute time allowance. But could a shoe reliably provide that much of an advantage?

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Nationwide wireless speed test gives T-Mobile and Verizon bragging rights

Ookla, the maker of the popular Speedtest app and website, declared T-Mobile the fastest wireless carrier in an evaluation of more than 12 million speed tests around the United States.

T-Mobile‘s “speed score,” which factors in download and upload speeds across the carrier’s network, edged out Verizon for first place. AT&T and Sprint came in third and fourth place, respectively. On average, Ookla reported download speeds of 27.33 Mbps across all carriers, and upload speeds of 8.63 Mbps.

Although T-Mobile technically came out ahead, Verizon argues that it was effectively penalized for offering broader rural coverage. Ookla’s report notes that “Verizon’s rural performance numbers are likely drawn down by the fact that they offer coverage in areas where other carriers do not,” and that “an extensive rural presence can pull down nationwide performance numbers.” For Verizon and AT&T, 29.1% and 20.1% of their tests came from rural areas respectively, versus just 11.3% for T-Mobile.

And while T-Mobile’s speed scores were much higher on Samsung’s Galaxy S9, Verizon’s score was slightly higher on the iPhone X. This is likely because the S9 uses newer networking technology that T-Mobile got an early start in supporting.

Ookla notes that speed scores could change drastically next year, as carriers begin deploying 5G wireless. Still, that technology will only appear in major cities at first, and only on a small number of devices. With 4G LTE now widely deployed across the country, this year’s scores could be the best snapshot of what most users will experience for several years to come.

The “for sale” sign gets its first major makeover in nearly 50 years

The real estate unicorn Compass, worth $2.2 billion, wants to connect front-lawn signage to the digital world.

The final prototype, in the shape of a magnifying glass, stands tall in a 10th-floor conference room at real estate startup Compass, emitting a gentle glow from the inner rim of its ringed frame. At first glance, the matte-black material and minimalist shape would appear destined for a patio, or inside a home. In fact, if it weren’t for the real estate agent contact information in the center of the glowing ring, it would be hard to call this a “for sale” sign. But that is exactly its purpose: to broadcast to buyers that a home is on the market, and, thanks to embedded technology, to give them access to a far richer set of information than a standard printed sign can contain.

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New-York-Internet-Flooding

Rising sea levels are coming for the internet

Rising seas threaten more than 4,000 miles of buried fiber optic cables in densely populated US coastal regions, report researchers. Seattle is one of three cities at most risk of internet disruptions.

In a talk to internet network researchers, Ramakrishnan Durairajan, an assistant professor in the computer and information science department at the University of Oregon, warned that most of the damage could come in the next 15 years. Strategies to reduce potential problems should be under consideration sooner rather than later, he says.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later…”

The Durairajan-led study is the first risk assessment of climate change to the internet.

“Our analysis is conservative in that we only looked at the static dataset of sea level rise and then overlapped that over the infrastructure to get an idea of risk,” Durairajan says. “Sea level rise can have other factors—a tsunami, a hurricane, coastal subduction zone earthquakes—all of which could provide additional stresses that could be catastrophic to infrastructure already at risk.”

By 2033, the study also found, that more than 1,100 internet traffic hubs will be surrounded by water. New York City and Miami are the other two most susceptible cities, but the impacts could ripple out and potentially disrupt global communications.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says the study’s senior author Paul Barford, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was Durairajan’s academic adviser while he completed the study as part of his doctoral work. “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

seawater map for NYC
Seawater effects projected by NOAA for 2033 for New York City on internet infrastructure. Undersea, long-haul fiber and metro fiber cables are in red/green/black, respectively, with submerged areas in blue. (Credit: Paul Barford/UW-Madison)
sea level rise and internet in Miami map
Seawater affects projected by NOAA for 2033 for Miami on internet infrastructure. (Credit: Paul Barford/UW-Madison)
internet flood map for Seattle
Seawater affects projected by NOAA for 2033 for Seattle on internet infrastructure. (Credit: Paul Barford/UW-Madison)

Barford is a leading expert on the “physical internet,” the buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges, and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries, and hubs of the global information network.

“The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure, but keeping the sea at bay is hard.”

The study, which only considered US infrastructure, combined data from the Internet Atlas, a comprehensive global map of the internet’s physical structure, and projections of sea level incursion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The roots of the danger emerged inadvertently during the internet’s rapid growth in the 1980s, says Durairajan. Neither a vision of a global grid nor planning for climate change was considered during the technology explosion.

“When commercialization of the internet happened, everybody wanted to make money,” he says. “Companies started their own infrastructure deployments. Everyone had their own policies and deployed everything that they wanted in ways that were good for them.”

Over time, layers of infrastructure were placed on top of each other. Despite advances in the technology, he says, those fiber lines remain in place and face the greatest risk. Buried fiber optic cables are designed to be water resistant, but unlike the marine cables that ferry data under the ocean, they are not waterproof.

Conduits at most risk are already close to sea level. Only a slight rise in ocean levels due to melting polar ice and thermal expansion will be needed to expose buried fiber optic cables to seawater, the study found. Service disruptions during catastrophic storm surges and flooding that accompanied hurricanes Sandy and Katrina hinted at the problems to come, Barford and Durairajan note.

Rising sea levels already altering tides in Chesapeake Bay

Mitigation strategies are needed to strengthen the coastal infrastructure so that failures there do not become cascading failures that take out inland stations, Durairajan says. The effects of building seawalls, according to the study, are difficult to predict.

“The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure,” Barford says. “But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

The study also examined risks to buried assets of individual internet service providers, finding that Century Link, Inteliquent, and AT&T are at highest risk.

Clam fossils show rising sea levels boost parasites

Durairajan shared the findings with academic and industry researchers at the Applied Networking Workshop in Montreal on July 16, a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Internet Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Source: University of Oregon

The post Rising sea levels are coming for the internet appeared first on Futurity.

The fast and the future: Best of the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Some of the finest supercars on Earth took on the hillclimb at the 2018 Goodwood Festival ...

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is done and dusted for another year, with a number of firsts and significant debuts lighting up the event’s 25th anniversary. Autonomous technology and electric motors brought cutting-edge vehicle tech to the front of the conversation, but there was still plenty of eye candy about for lovers of traditional automotive engineering.

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Category: Automotive

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Healthcare design needs rocket science

The U.K. Space Agency is giving away $5.3 million to the best ideas for the NHS.

Technology developed for space often makes its way back to planet Earth: NASA research has led to advances in prosthetics, firefighter gear, and even baby food. And now, the U.K. Space Agency is trying to bring some of its tech to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, the national healthcare system.

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This sun-chasing robo-plant is wildly impractical, and wonderful

Want to feel warm and fuzzy about the future of technology? Here’s your chance.

In 2014, the roboticist Sun Tianqi saw a dead sunflower. It had been planted in the shade, where it was unable to sustain itself. He asked himself: What if that sunflower could move with the intent of a human? Could the sunflower have saved its own life?

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Closer look: Rolls-Royce Cullinan and the unlikely intersection of rugged and luxury

Rolls-Royce Cullinan: that's a hell of a moustache you've got there

We’ve now had our first chance to take an up-close look at Rolls-Royce’s most fascinating car in a long time. An ambitious and almost self-contradictory attempt to blend rugged off-road capability with uncompromising luxury, the Cullinan is a muscular tank full of technology and creature comforts.

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Category: Automotive

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This is what helped me take over as CEO after my husband died

On the Monday after the Friday my husband died, I left our three small children in the care of our heartbroken family and drove to his office. Years earlier, when we were newlyweds and he was student teaching, Alan had taught himself to code, building a handful of online educational video games for elementary-school students. When he noticed his colleagues using his creations in their lesson plans, Alan saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. In 2010, we decided he should leave teaching to focus on ABCya.com, a company he grew into a thriving business with millions of users. Then, a few months after his 40th birthday, he passed away unexpectedly, the sudden victim of an undiagnosed heart condition.

The two days that followed remain a blur. My entire conception of the future—raising our children together, growing old in each other’s arms—had shattered over the course of one horrific evening. But beyond the agonizing grief that came with holding my devastated children as they slept was something almost as profound: fear. Alan’s entrepreneurialism had kept us afloat while I parented our kids and pursued a degree in Italian Studies.

Now, not only was I a grieving young widow, but because ours was a family business, I was suddenly a tech CEO, too.

A shattered status quo

Before we’d had kids, Alan and I had spent our evenings working together to build games that combined age-appropriate learning and all-around fun. Once the business had grown too big for our dining room table, he rented a small office down the street and outsourced much of my contribution to a small staff. Intent on giving me the space to be a Dante scholar (by day) and a mother (on mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights, and weekends), he’d shielded me from the company’s inner workings.

This division of labor had worked well for us both. But now that it was gone, I had no choice but to dive back into the business in addition to keeping up my other responsibilities. On that awful spring morning, while Alan’s best friend held my hand, I broke the news to the small band of collaborators Alan had hired to bring ABCya’s games to life.

At first, many of our friends had urged me to sell the company. But I was determined to hold on. Alan had coded ABCya’s first big success, “Math Bingo,” while bouncing our newborn son on his knee. Amid my devastation, I was resolved not to let his life’s work slip away. So at that first gathering of the company’s employees, I asked the staff to continue working on the projects Alan had assigned them the week before. Once I found the password to his laptop and a number for the company’s accountant, I began to work through his inbox, piecing together where the company was and where he’d intended it to go.

What no one in the office knew at the time—but what he’d shared privately with me at home—was that Alan had grown weary of being CEO. He’d loved tinkering with the software, building the games, and seeing children light up when a math or language concept clicked into place. But as the business grew, his responsibilities had changed. He was less enmeshed in the technology and more focused on negotiating licensing agreements, balancing cash flow, managing a growing staff, and anticipating changes in the marketplace. At heart, Alan had been an introvert, even though being CEO was no longer an introvert’s job.

Picking up the pieces, and finding them fit

Over the next several weeks, I came to realize that the very tasks Alan loathed fell more naturally in my wheelhouse. I wasn’t as practiced as Alan had been at seeing the niche between pedagogy and online gaming. But the juggling act that comes with managing a growing enterprise was oddly familiar. Much as he’d often come home from work overwhelmed, I felt entirely in my element resolving conflicts, prioritizing tasks, managing crises, and juggling a range of priorities. Eventually, I began to understand why: Parenthood had inadvertently trained me to run a startup.

Shortly before he died, Alan had gathered ABCya’s staff to unveil his vision for a new game, Parts of Speech Quest: Nouns. As the company’s newly installed CEO, I was determined to finish the job. But several weeks in, the staff disagreed about the best way forward. Our illustration team had invested countless hours perfecting new imagery. But the programmers wanted to expedite the game’s release by using their own design ideas. Disagreements were beginning to stoke unspoken resentment. And while I had the authority to resolve the dispute in a flash, years of parenting helped me understand that something more profound was at play.

Alan and I always tried to attend all of our children’s extracurricular activities. But as every parent knows, scheduling conflicts are inevitable. When a heartbroken kid realizes that no one’s going to watch his soccer game, he can wonder whether his parents’ absence points to a breach of affection. I realized in that fraught moment at the office that both the design and programming teams were likely more worried about letting Alan down than either was about the graphics themselves. They needed to know that the company was as invested in them as they were in it. So beyond determining how the game’s digital coinage would appear, I worked to reassure the team that I valued everyone’s contribution—and I still do.

Transferrable skills

The skills I’d honed as a parent weren’t just useful in one-off situations. The witching hour before dinner is a veritable training ground for executive leadership. One kid invariably needs help with homework. Another one’s upset about something someone said at lunch. The third twisted her ankle jumping on the basement trampoline. Amid all of that, someone still has to boil the pasta and set the table. On the morning Alan and I got married, I would never have been prepared to navigate a family evening. Today, it’s almost second nature.

Several months into my tenure as CEO, I found myself in a similar situation—but this time at the office. I was preparing to deliver my first major presentation at an education technology conference in Austin. We were about to release a new game. I was negotiating a contract with one of the company’s vendors. And I needed to complete one employee’s annual review. Had I assumed the mantle of ABCya’s leadership without any training, managing these various challenges at the same time would’ve been completely overwhelming. But after nine years with children, I barely broke a sweat.

Don’t get me wrong—I needed to learn a few things during those initial months running the company. The world of finance was broadly unfamiliar at first, and I had little of Alan’s largely self-taught capacity to code. But a CEO can hire expertise, or even take a crash course. More important is a leader’s ability to manage competing priorities, motivate top-notch employees, anticipate challenges, and lay out a vision for how the market can grow. And in my experience, anyway, few things train you better to hit those marks simultaneously than raising children.

Need a CEO? Hire a parent

Unfortunately, that reality is broadly at odds with conventional wisdom. Recruiters looking to place new executives rarely credit candidates for the years they’ve spent coordinating carpools and packing healthy lunches for children with unpredictable tastes.

Moreover, prevailing attitudes, which tend to include a dose of sexism, put mothers at a particular disadvantage. There’s no mistaking the judgment I endure when I tell professional partners that I need to end a meeting early in order to pick up my kids from gymnastics. But when Alan took a morning off to chaperone Tony’s nursery school on a pumpkin-picking adventure, everyone thought he was adorable (admittedly, he was). Is it any wonder, then, why women are so dramatically underrepresented in the C-suite, or that women’s representation has actually fallen in tech fields since the ’90s?

I miss my husband every moment of every day. Even after a year of living without him, I still wake up weeping most nights, staring at his smooth, empty pillow. He will not stand beside me as I watch our baby graduate from kindergarten. I’ll cheer without him when our son scores his first game-winning goal. I will wear a proud, brave smile—but I will mourn privately—when our daughter masters a difficult math skill.

Nevertheless, deep down, I believe Alan is still helping me. Even if he never intended it, he prepared me for my new role by giving me the space required to raise three young children. I wouldn’t have been equipped to lead ABCya had he not supported my decision to spend those years at home.

My job’s not done—not as a CEO, and certainly not as a mother. But among the other elements of his legacy I’ll always cherish is the realization that parenthood trains you to be a leader. So absent our tragedy, I hope my experience sheds light on one of the economy’s most profoundly untapped assets. Next time you’re looking to hire a CEO, recruit a parent—especially a mother.


Lisa Tortolani is the CEO of ABCya.com, a company whose online games were played more than a billion times last year by more than 120 million kids worldwide.