Author: Devin Coldewey

Feel the beep: This album is played entirely on a PC motherboard speaker

If you’re craving a truly different sound with which to slay the crew this weekend, look no further than System Beeps, a new album by shiru8bit — though you may have to drag your old 486 out of storage to play it. Yes, this album runs in MS-DOS and its music is produced entirely through the PC speaker — you know, the one that can only beep. Now, chiptunes aren’t anything new. But the more popular ones tend to imitate the sounds found in classic computers and consoles like the Amiga and SNES. It’s just limiting enough to make it fun, and of course many of us have a lot of nostalgia for the music from that period. (The Final Fantasy VI opening theme still gives me chills.) But fewer among us look back fondly on the days before sample-based digital music, before even decent sound cards let games have meaningful polyphony and such. The days when the only thing your computer could do was beep, and when it did, you were scared. Shiru, a programmer and musician who’s been doing “retro” sound since it before it was retro, took it upon himself to make some music for this extremely limited audio platform. Originally he was just planning on making a couple tunes for a game project, but in this interesting breakdown of how he made the music, he...

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Facebook picks up retail computer vision outfit GrokStyle

If you’ve ever seen a lamp or chair that you liked and wished you could just take a picture and find it online, well, GrokStyle let you do that — and now the company has been snatched up by Facebook to augment its own growing computer vision department. GrokStyle started as a paper — as AI companies often do these days — at 2015’s SIGGRAPH. A National Science Foundation grant got the ball rolling on the actual company, and in 2017 founders Kavita Bala and Sean Bell raised $2 million to grow it. The basic idea is simple: matching...

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Google makes it easier for cheap phones and smart devices to encrypt your data

Encryption is an important part of the whole securing-your-data package, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device. One part of that is the amount of processing encryption takes — an amount that could be impractical on small or low-end devices. Google wants to change that with a highly efficient new method called Adiantum. Here’s the problem. While encryption is in a way just transforming one block of data reversibly into another, that process is actually pretty complicated. Math needs to be done, data read and written and reread and rewritten and confirmed and hashed. For a text message that’s not so hard. But if you have to do the same thing as you store or retrieve megabyte after megabyte of data, for instance with images or video, that extra computation adds up quick. Lots of modern smartphones and other gadgets are equipped with a special chip that performs some of the most common encryption algorithms and processes (namely AES), just like we have GPUs to handle graphics calculations in games and such. But what about older phones, or cheaper ones, or tiny smart home gadgets that don’t have room for that kind of thing on their boards? Just like they can’t run the latest games, they might not be able to efficiently run the latest cryptographic processes. They can still...

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Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer of blackmailing him — and publishes the details himself

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he is being blackmailed by AMI, owner of the National Enquirer and reportedly protector of the President’s reputation, over claims the publisher has acted as a political operative. In the process, he provided details of the compromising images purportedly acquired of him. Bezos, who has been in the news recently owing to a rather dramatic and public divorce, published a post on a fresh Medium instance describing in detail the process by which he has been targeted by AMI. It began when Bezos commissioned private security provider and investigator Gavin de Becker to look into how the National Enquirer obtained (and published) private texts and images of his, part of which was apparently to look into connections with Saudi Arabia and potential interference with the Washington Post, which Bezos of course owns. This apparently did not sit well with David Pecker, AMI’s CEO and Chairman: Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve… They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation. They wanted Bezos to publicly state that he has “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political...

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Congress flaunts its ignorance in House hearing on net neutrality

It’s amazing, and yet should surprise no one, that this country’s elected representatives can be either so cynical or so ignorant that two decades into the net neutrality debate, the basics still elude them. Today’s hearing in the House saw Members of Congress airing musty arguments and grandstanding generically as if they had just been informed of the internet this week. The hearing today at the House Energy and Commerce committee was entitled “Preserving an Open Internet for Consumers, Small Businesses, and Free Speech.” Newly ascended Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who has been extremely outspoken on these issues for the last few years, gave an introduction that was unmistakably hostile to the present FCC and its replacement of 2015’s net neutrality rules. The witnesses that would be examined for the next three hours represented both sides of the issue, and it must be said were earnest and well spoken. But the same could not be said for many of the Representatives who were ostensibly there to inform themselves about possibly ways to create federal, bipartisan net neutrality legislation. (You can watch the full hearing here.) Saying it over and over doesn’t make it any more true All the old canards were trucked out as if they have not been addressed over and over for years. The most frequent argument was that Title II, the statutory authority on which the...

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Facebook’s head of comms hits the road after 8 years at the company

Facebook head of communications Caryn Marooney is leaving for greener pastures, she announced today, on Facebook of course. She joins the growing number of executives and high-level employees departing the company during and after what may be its toughest year. “I spent a lot of time over the winter holiday reflecting, and with the New Year, and after 8 years at Facebook, I’ve decided to step down as leader of the communications group,” Marooney wrote. “I’ve decided it’s time to get back to my roots: going deep in tech and product.” She thanked CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl...

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SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew capsule test dates slip yet again

One of the most important upcoming events in the space industry is undoubtedly the advent of SpaceX and Boeing’s competing crew-bearing capsules, which the companies have been working on for years. But today brings yet another delay for both programs, already years behind schedule. Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules will in the future be used to send astronauts to the International Space Station and conceivably other orbital platforms. As such they are being engineered and tested with a rigor greatly exceeding that of ordinary cargo capsules. It isn’t an easy task, though, and both companies have come a long way, we’re well past the original estimated service debut of 2017. When it comes to shooting humans into space, of course, it’s done when it’s done, and not a day before. This month was to be a major milestone for Crew Dragon, which was scheduled to make an uncrewed test trip to the ISS; Boeing planned to perform orbital tests soon as well, but both have been put off, according to NASA’s Commercial Crew blog: The agency now is targeting March 2 for launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight. Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is targeted for launch no earlier than April. These adjustments allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of...

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Robin’s robotic mowers now have a patented doggie door just for them

Back in 2016 we had Robin up on stage demonstrating the possibility of a robotic mower as a service rather than just something you buy. They’re still going strong, and just introduced and patented what seems in retrospect a pretty obvious idea: an automatic door for the mower to go through fences between front and back yards. It’s pretty common, after all, to have a back yard isolated from the front lawn by a wood or chainlink fence so dogs and kids can roam freely there with only light supervision. And if you’re lucky enough to have a robot...

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