Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Western Digital 1TB USB-C Flash Drive

Digital Photography Review reports: [edited]

Western Digital has introduced what it claims to be the world's smallest 1TB USB-C flash drive. No release date or price available.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Self-healing, Cheap, Artificial Muscles

Newsweek reports: [edited]

Scientists have created nimble robotic muscles as strong as an elephant and as bendy as an octopus. These soft but powerful new artificial muscles can sense their own movements and self-heal from electrical damage. What’s more, they cost only 10 cents to make.

The University of Colorado Boulder team filled elastic pouches with vegetable oil and hydrogel electrodes. When electricity is applied, the oil around the electrodes spasms. This pulls on the electrodes, making the whole artificial muscle contract and release in milliseconds. These movements can beat the speed of human muscle reactions.

The team calls the flexible muscles “Hydraulically-amplified Self-healing Electrostatic” actuators, or HASEL actuators.

Using a layer of insulating liquid also allows the muscles to heal from electrical damage. This gives them an advantage over other “soft robotic” actuators that have a solid insulating layer.

Just like human muscles, the actuators can sense environmental input. The electrical components create a kind of capacitor that stores potential energy according to the stretch of the actuator. This can be measured to figure out the strain of the muscle.

While the super-strength muscles can be stronger, faster and more flexible than our own, they are not perfect. At present, the powerful muscles are held back by their thirst for electricity.

Acome explains: "The high voltage required for operation is a challenge for moving forward. However, we are already working on solving that problem and have designed devices in the lab that operate with a fifth of the voltage used in this paper."

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

iPhone X - First Thoughts

I recently upgraded from an iPhone 6s Plus to an iPhone X. Early impressions follow…

– Feels great in the hand compared to the 6s Plus, it seems smaller and lighter than the 14g and removal of top/bottom bezels would suggest.

– Face ID works as advertised, reliable and 'tap screen and swipe up from bottom edge to wake' is more elegant than clicking a home button.

– It is SO fast. Everything happens in real time, something you forget about until you use an older phone.

– The screen is beautiful, colours are subtle and yet clearly visible in bright light. Again, you notice it when you use another phone, when the colours look garish in comparison. It also seems to shrug off dirt and grease more effectively.

– The camera is excellent, and the 'artificial bokeh/studio effects' are useful for snap shots. When used with Adobe Lightroom (using RAW images) the results are incrementally better than the images from the 6s Plus.

– The £1,000 cost is often criticised, but as an item that I use regularly, 365 days a year for a vast range of tasks, and given that most of my iPhones have lasted between 2 and 3 years between upgrades and still have a saleable value, the approx. £1 per day it is costing me seems very reasonable.

– Wireless charging is one of those things you start out thinking 'Why do i need this?', and quickly move to 'Using wires to charge stuff is such a pain'.

– I know it is new, but the battery life is better than any previous iPhone I've used.

– The built-in speakers' sound quality has been significantly improved.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

London - Somerset - London, 27 & 28-12-17

London to Somerset, 27-12-17
Trash - New York Dolls
Can't Do Without You - Caribou
Telegram Sam - T.Rex
The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Tokens
I'M Still Standing - Elton John
Fell In Love With A Girl - The White Stripes
Lean on Me (Ah-li-ayo) - Red Box
Dancing In The Moonlight - Toploader
I'm Gonna Make You Love Me - Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations
These Boots Are Made For Walkin' - Nancy Sinatra
Rip It Up - Orange Juice
Waiting For Superman - Nightcore
No One Knows - Queens of the Stone Age
Barbados - Typically Tropical
Top Of The World - The Carpenters
Are You Ready for Love - Elton John
I Kissed A Girl - Jill Sobule
The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Robert John
Summer In The City - The Lovin' Spoonful
New Rules - Dua Lipa
Paper Romance - Groove Armada
Handsfree (If You Hold My Hand) [Radio Edit] - Sonny J
Looks, Looks, Looks - Sparks
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) [Steve Angello Remix Edit] - Eurythmics
I Say A Little Prayer - Aretha Franklin
Take Me Away - Christina Vidal
Respectable - Mel & Kim
Ridin' - Chamillionaire Feat. Krazie Bone
Play House - Afrobeta
Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr
Happy Together - Simple Plan
Don't Phunk With My Heart - The Black Eyed Peas
Dancing On A Saturday Night - Barry Blue
Rollin' (Ballad of Big and Rich) - Big & Rich
I Will Never Let You Down - Rita Ora
I Want To Break Free [2011 Remaster] - Queen
Astounded (feat. Curtis Mayfield) - Bran Van 3000
More More More - Andrea True Connection
New Sensation - INXS
No Promises - Cheat Codes feat. Demi Lovato
Chippy Tea (2009 Version) - The Lancashire Hotpots
Legs - ZZ Top
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye - Soft Cell
Breakfast At Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something
Wild Wild Life - Talking Heads
Jackie - Scott Walker
I Dare You - The xx
What A Wonderful World - Joey Ramone
Magic - Pilot
Always - Erasure
Cuddly Toy - Roachford
Summer Of '69 - Bryan Adams
Girl Anachronism - The Dresden Dolls
Get Over You - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Raspberry Beret (Extended 12" Version) - Prince & The Revolution
Don't Turn Around - Ace Of Base

Somerset to London, 28-12-17
Beauty Queen - Lash
Sequestered In Memphis - The Hold Steady
Raindrops - Basement Jaxx
Two Doors Down - Mystery Jets
Surburban Homeboy - Sparks
She's So Modern - The Boomtown Rats
Me No Pop I - Coati Mundi
North American Scum (Radio Edit) - LCD Soundsystem
Don't Go Breaking My Heart - Elton John & Kiki Dee
Solid Gold Easy Action - T.Rex
Number One Song In Heaven - Sparks
Sailing On The Seven Seas - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Crocodile Rock - Elton John
Chantilly Lace - The Big Bopper
What A Way To End It All - Deaf School
Thunder In My Heart - Leo Sayer
Three Steps To Heaven - Showaddywaddy
1-800-273-8255 - Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid
You Were Right - Badly Drawn Boy
Metal Guru - T.Rex
Shine - Aswad
Sugar - Nightcore
We Were Beautiful - Belle and Sebastian
Sweet Like Chocolate - Shanks & Bigfoot
Don't You Want Me - The Human League
Down In Mexico - The Coasters
War - Edwin Starr
This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us - Sparks
Beans For Breakfast - Johnny Cash
Sweet Dreams - Eurythmics
Ride A White Swan - T.Rex
Kiss The Bride - Elton John
Hi Jo Hi - Deaf School
Up Around The Bend - Creedence Clearwater Revival
My Number - Foals
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go - Wham!
Town Called Malice - The Jam
White Boy - James
Happy Talk - Captain Sensible
Jet - Paul McCartney & Wings
Funny Funny - Sweet
Crying At the Discoteque (Radio Edit) - Alcazar
Life In A Northern Town - The Dream Academy
Girls & Boys (single) - Blur
Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
Right Place Wrong Time - Dr. John
C'mon Everybody - Eddie Cochran
Little Does She Know - Kursaal Flyers

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

iMac Pro

The Verge reports: [edited]

The iMac Pro is available. But for most people, it's a better idea to covet this machine than it is to actually acquire it. It starts at £4,899 and configuring its various options will rocket the price up from there.

The iMac Pro features Intel Xeon W-class processors with 8, 10, 14, or 18 cores. You can also choose between two Radeon Pro Vega graphics options.

It comes with four Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, four USB-A ports, 10Gb Ethernet, an SDXC card slot that supports UHS-II speeds, and a headphone jack. It has the same screen as the current 27-inch iMac Retina 5K.

The iMac Pro also has the usual complement of RAM and storage options — and the opportunity to get as much as 128GB of RAM. Apple claims that the entire system has been optimised so the iMac Pro will perform better than a custom-built workstation using the same components.

Much of that integration comes thanks to new, custom silicon that Apple is calling the T2. It's an integrated system that handles a ton of the deep computer controls that are usually handled by disparate parts of the motherboard. It handles audio, the image processing for the upgraded 1080p camera, and other system management functions. It also acts as a more powerful SSD controller, handling the computing load of file encryption directly rather than having it bog down your main processor.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Soft Robot Muscles Lift 1,000 Times Their Weight

The Verge reports: [edited]

Soft robotics has been a promising field of research for years, but these squidgy and flexible creations have been held back by the absence of one important characteristic: strength. Now, scientists from MIT CSAIL and Harvard’s Wyss Institute have come up with a way to give soft robots some power — by outfitting them with rigid origami skeletons.

In a paper published today in the journal PNAS, researchers describe a new type of soft artificial muscle that could be used to build soft robots. Each muscle consists of a sealed bag filled with air or fluid, containing a folding origami structure that functions as the skeleton. When the pressure inside the bag is reduced using an electric pump, the whole structure collapses and contracts, just like the muscles in your arm or leg.

The new muscles have their drawbacks, though. The biggest being that they’re not as easily controlled or as reprogrammable as traditional robots. The direction they move in is entirely dictated by their inner structure and once created, can’t be changed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Self-Driving Trucks Delivering Refrigerators

Wired reports: [edited]

Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal is to let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.

“This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry.”

Embark believes semis, not personal cars, are the smartest use of autonomous technology. They’ve got some good arguments. First off, making a robot that can drive itself on the highway, where trucks spend nearly all their time, is relatively easy. You don’t have to account for pedestrians, cyclists, traffic lights, or other variables. The big rig just has to stay in its lane and keep a safe distance from fellow travellers.

Better yet, the need for autonomous trucks is very real: Trucks carry 70 percent of goods shipped around the US, but truckers are scarce. According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is now short 50,000 drivers. As current drivers retire or quit, that number could hit 175,000 by 2024. Cut down the need for the human, and that shortage stops being a problem. And a self-driving truck isn't subject to rules that ban humans from spending more than 11 hours at a time behind the wheel.

Indeed, make a truck that doesn’t tire (or text), the thinking goes, and you save lives: In the US, more than 4,000 people die in crashes involving trucks every year, crashes that nearly always result from human error.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sony a7R Mark III

Digital Photography Review has published a full, positive review of Sony's latest high-resolution full frame mirrorless camera.

Snippets from the conclusion follow:

"At its core, the a7R III can be seen as a mashup of the best parts of its predecessor, the a7R II, and Sony's sports-shooting flagship a9. As with Nikon's D850 for DSLR users, the a7R III has the potential to be a 'Goldilocks' camera for those looking at mirrorless solutions. You get tons of resolution, great burst speeds, capable autofocus and impressive video."

"The sheer capability of the Sony a7R III is hard to overstate. With the sports-oriented a9, Sony was aiming for outright speed; the a7R III has inherited much of that, but offers far more resolution and dynamic range. Like the Nikon D850, the a7R III is a camera that you can shoot just about anything with, from landscapes to fast action."

"There is a vast number of small improvements and refinements in the a7R III. From the ergonomics to the better organised menus, this is the most usable and engaging a7-series camera yet. The on-sensor autofocus system needs some work in terms of subject tracking, but in other autofocus modes, the a7R III makes it dead easy to get the most out of the 42.4MP of resolution it offers. Never before has shooting such high resolution files been so fun, or so painless."

"The a7R III still can't quite match the feeling of immediacy that comes with using a high-end DSLR; the card write speeds can get in your way, and the learning curve for new users can be steep. But the fact remains that the a7R III is capable of gorgeous still images and video, and has the feel of an impressively polished product. In our opinion, this is easily Sony's best camera yet, and one of the best cameras we've ever tested. It's the most well-rounded mirrorless camera on the market today, and for that, it earns our highest award."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Toyota T-HR3 Humanoid Robot

PC Mag reports: [edited]

T-HR3 is remotely controlled from a "Master Maneuvering System" that lets a human operator become 'one' with the robot. Wearable controls map the operator's hand, arm, and foot movements and communicate them to T-HR3's body parts.

When the operator moves their arms, the robot mirrors those movements. The operator can also walk in place to make the robot move forward or laterally. Plus, a head-mounted display lets the operator see from T-HR3's perspective.

Toyota said its latest robotics platform can "safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas, and even outer space." T-HR3 can even maintain its balance if it collides with something.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Free Typeface – IBM Plex

After decades of using Helvetica (and paying millions of dollars for the privilege) as its corporate font, IBM has decided to design its own typeface. IBM Plex is a work in progress, and includes sans serif, slab serif and monospace versions.

To my eyes they look like a not very beautiful committee mash-up of Din, Bell Gothic, News Gothic and Archer, but if you fancy trying them out, all 48 styles are available for free download at Font Squirrel.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A Potpourri Of iPhone X Reviews

The Verge has produced a comprehensive no-nonsense review.

DxO has reviewed the iPhone X's camera, and concludes that, for stills, it is the best smartphone camera available. Their conclusion follows:

“For portraits, the improved telephoto lens delivers sharp results even indoors, and the bokeh simulation produces a natural and pleasing background blur. Outdoors, exposures are outstanding, with great dynamic range, impressive skies, good fine detail, and punchy color rendering. Add to all that the extra features on the front-facing camera, including a Portrait mode for blurred-background selfies, and the iPhone X delivers one hell of a smartphone camera.”

On a less serious note, Wired has published an amusing summary of some of the more gushing iPhone X reviews.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Cochlear Nucleus 7 Sound Processor

Mashable reports: [edited]

The Nucleus 7 allows users to stream sounds directly to their Cochlear implant from their iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

People living with severe to profound hearing loss will be able to listen to music, play games, watch videos, get directions from Maps, or make FaceTime calls.

Users can control the sound processor on their iPhone using the Nucleus Smart App, which monitors the device's volume, battery and location with the Find My Processor feature.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Free Fonts - Arima

Font Squirrel reports: [edited]

A typeface with soft edges and a calligraphic feel, designed for screen reading. Both families come in 7 weights, Arima Madurai has extended language support for Tamil and Latin scripts.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Robots More Accurate Than Human Surgeons

BGR reports: [edited]

A new study aimed at comparing the steady hand of a human surgeon against the cold precision of the Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) revealed just how much better a bot really is, and what that means for patients going under its knife.

The research pitted the surgical bot, which is still in active development, against a human surgeons operating on a human analog — in this particular case, it was pig tissue including muscle, fat and skin. The cuts made by both the human doctors and the STAR were judged based on how precise their cuts were as well as how much damage was done to the flesh surrounding the incision.

The STAR system not only produced more precise cuts in terms of length, but they were also closer to the 'perfect' line and the incision caused less damage to the flesh.

The STAR could one day be completely autonomous. “I really believe that this is the future of surgery,” study co-author Axel Krieger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland said. “I believe this will come about first for small sub-functions of surgery and get more and more complex. Similarly to autonomous cars, where small features such as brake-assist slowly morphed into more and more autonomy.