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Interesting snippets from around the globe

The first IBM ThinkPad was a paper notebook


IBM’s first notebook computer went on sale in 1992. The name “ThinkPad” was borrowed from a notebook they already made — a paper one.

In the 1920s, IBM’s corporate slogan was “THINK!” and, for inspiration, employees and customers were given paper notebooks with the word “THINK” embossed into the cover.

While on a coffee break, IBM researcher Denny Wainwright was inspired by the notepad and came up with the name for their new notebook computer line - ThinkPad. So the story goes, the idea for the notebook computer was actually first conceptualised on the paper inside one of the brown leatherette versions.

In 2005, IBM sold the ThinkPad brand to Lenovo for approximately $US1.75 billion.

(Apr ‘14)


Drones on demand


Gofor, a new company in the U.S., is promoting the idea of drones on demand. All you have to do (apparently) is use the app on your iPhone to request a drone and it shows you were they are and how long before one reaches your location.

You want to take the ultimate selfie? Scout ahead to see if the road is clear or just find a parking space? No problem. Just task a drone to do the job.

According to the promo video, for the photo you simply flash your phone camera at it and it pinpoints your location for an aerial selfie. If it is scouting ahead, then it shows you what awaits via a video link.

While it sounds like a flight of fancy, the company claims to be operational in five US cities.

(Apr ‘14)


Full immersion cooling for servers


Intel is experimenting with a cooling system which fully immerses the entirety of a computer’s electronics in liquid to increase efficiency and lower the energy bills.

Working with SGI and 3M, their first experiments are using a fluid developed by 3M called Novec: a dielectric liquid, which means it doesn't conduct electricity, allowing the electronics to continue to operate as usual when submerged.

It's a simple idea, based on simple physics which says a liquid conducts heat away from objects faster than air. Intel claims that its experiments suggest that fully immersing supercomputers could slash energy bills by as much as 90% - but there are a few challenges.

Most notably that means redesigning motherboards and other hardware to work most effectively under Novec. Currently, of course, they're designed to be efficiently cooled by air, and they'll need to be arranged differently to operate most effectively surrounded by liquid.

A proof-of-concept rig is currently running in the 3M office in St. Paul, Minnesota, using Intel Xeon chips immersed in the liquid and it appears to be buzzing along nicely.

It remains to be seen how quickly it'll get from benchtop to server room.

(Apr ‘14)


An app to fight parking tickets


We’ve all been there – arrived back at the car to find a parking ticket neatly tucked under the windscreen wiper. It can be infuriating since you checked every sign in the vicinity and thought you were playing by the book. Now, there’s an app for that called Fixed, which will fight the ticket on your behalf.

Here’s how it works: You start by visiting GetFixed.me and register with your credit card. Then, when you get hit by the traffic wardens, you take a photo of the ticket with your iPhone, upload it to the app along with the violation number, explain why you want to contest the ticket,  e.g. parking signs missing or obscured, or the meter broken. Depending on the nature of the violation, you might be prompted to take more photos.

Then the app will match you with a lawyer and calculate the odds of you beating the ticket. If you elect to continue to protest your innocence, Fixed will prepare a letter contesting the ticket, which you'll digitally sign and submit.

If you win, you pay 25% of the ticket fee to Fixed, not the city coffers. If you lose, you're on the hook for the ticket, but you pay Fixed nothing.

The app is currently in beta testing in San Francisco. Someone should launch this here.

(Mar ‘14)


Brazil blocks foreign mobiles


The Brazilian government has started blocking mobile phones not sold in Brazil because they haven’t collected sales tax on them.

The blocking is based on the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) so if you come to Brazil for the World Cup in June and think of buying a Brazilian SIM card to call locally at lower rates then it won't work because your mobile's IMEI will be blacklisted as not sold in Brazil.

Consider your phone red-carded and outta the game.

(Mar ‘14)


Wearable tech for cows


2014 might be the year for wearable tech – Google Glass, smart watches – but why stop at humans? Why not cows too?

The company behind Silent Herdsman (Embedded Technology Solutions)  has created a cow collar which, rather than counting calories burned, has various sensors that continually track a cow and trigger an alert (on a phone, tablet or computer) if there is a change in the usual pattern of behaviour. For example, the company says it can detect when an animal has entered its oestrous cycle – otherwise known as being ‘in heat’. Perhaps the system could send an alert to the bull too.

As well as that, the company says the tracker helps with overall animal health and leads to increased milk yields, and enhanced profitability for farmers.

(Mar ‘14)


Steve Jobs on a postage stamp


The late Apple co-founder will appear on a special commemorative U.S. postage stamp in 2015, according to the Washington Post.

It’s part of a campaign to boost revenue for the U.S Postal service by using popular subjects for collectible issues in addition to the more-traditional historical, cultural and literary figures. Johnny Carson, James Brown, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are also on the list, along Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Peanuts cartoons.

I wonder if the Steve Jobs stamp will have round corners?

(Mar ‘14)

Back to top


Ever wonder why your mouse pointer is angled?


The reason, courtesy of a concept drawing from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where the graphical user interface was invented by Douglas Engelbart, and where Steve Jobs was first introduced to the concept that was to lead to the MacIntosh, is as follows:

When the graphical user interface was later developed by Xerox, however, the team found that the vertical pointer was almost impossible to see due to the low resolution displays in use at the time.

Rather than make the pointer larger, the decision was made to turn it 45 degrees, making it easy to see. Despite the high resolution displays we have today, the concept has managed to stick for 33 years.

(Mar ‘14)


A virus hops between WiFi access points


Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.

The team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called 'Chameleon’, that not only could spread quickly between homes and businesses, but avoided detection and identified the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.’

Looks like a sitter for coffee shops and other hotspots.

(Mar ‘14)


BroApp sends automated messages to your girlfriend


A new app from a couple of Australian dudes makes it possible for a user to spend more time with his 'bros' by sending 'sweet' automated messages to their girlfriends.

The BroApp, which is currently only available for Android, allows users to write a series of lovey-dovey messages and schedule them to be sent at a specific time, leaving them free to hang out with the boys without feeling guilty.

Users are asked to type in their girlfriend's name and number when they first download the app, and after that it's up to them to write the messages.

And, BroApp has got your back. It detects when the user is at his girlfriend's house by identifying her WiFi network, and doesn't send any messages then, which would blow the whole cover.

It also detects when the user has messaged his girlfriend in real time, or she has messaged him, and it cancels any pre-written texts to avoid arousing suspicion.

Finally, there is a "Girlfriend Intrusion Detector", which the developers claim will send any inquisitive girlfriends to a list of gifts the user was planning to buy her if she tries to get into BroApp.

It is only set up to send texts to women and is selling at $NZ1.99 in the Android Play Store.

An iPhone version is expected soon.

(Mar ‘14)


Save your files on a sticky note


Today’s computers generally look pretty stylish but the users often look like a bit of a klutz fumbling around with their thumbstick trying to put it into the USB port upside down.

What if you could save your data just by slapping a sticky note onto the screen?

That’s what a couple of designers from India are proposing.

At this stage, it’s all theoretical, but they believe a single layer of grapheme sandwiched between two protective layers could provide up to 32GB of storage. A sticky edge would carry data from an optical transfer surface conveniently built into the edge of your computer monitor to the dataSTICKIES.

Peel and stick storage. That’s pretty cool.

(Mar ‘14)


ATMs, hackers and Windows XP


More than 95% of ATMs run the Microsoft operating system and, according to NCR, the largest provider of ATMs globally. They also point out that only a third of ATM providers will upgrade before Microsoft’s April 8th cut-off.

But because Microsoft will continue issuing updates for the three newer versions of Windows, those updates can be reverse engineered to find weaknesses in XP – providing a field day for hackers.

According to Timothy Rains, Microsoft’s director of trustworthy computing, who spoke at a recent computer security conference in San Francisco,  “The probability of attackers using security updates for Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows Vista to attack Windows XP is about 100 per cent.” 

That’s a worry.

(Mar ‘14)


Drones for hunting banned in Alaska


Hunters in Alaska will have to rely on more traditional means of stalking big game after the state's Board of Game approved a measure that prohibits the use of drones to spot animals. Now those wily hunters will just have to rely on their camouflage clothing, high-powered rifles, and high-powered handheld cameras to kill unsuspecting beasts.

For the record, drone-assisted hunting isn't quite yet an epidemic, according to the Anchorage Daily News. However, the authorities are worried that it will become more popular as the technology gets cheaper. How exactly they plan to enforce the new ban in the vast expanses of Alaska's wilderness isn’t clear. 

Drones now join a list of other banned hunting tools, which include bombs, radio communication between hunters, exploding salt licks, and poison.

(Mar ‘14)


The Million Dollar Homepage


Remember the Million Dollar Homepage? Eight years later its still there but not quite as healthy as it once was – 22% of its links are now dead. 

Originally conceived by Alex Tew as a means of funding his college education, each 10-by-10 pixel chunk of the webpage was sold off as advertising space at $US100 a pop. An early and rather cheeky precursor to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, it went viral and sold out in 138 days.

And, it’s still online. But many of the links now point to websites that no longer exist. In fact, dead links account for 221,900 of the pixels on the site, as this GIF at the second link below shows.

Apparently, 23,200 links were dead from the start because advertisers failed to provide URLs for the site (duh!). So that means that, strictly speaking, about 20% of the links have died in the past eight years.

That’s a solid reminder of how things on the Internet do endure.

(Mar ‘14)


Getting your food by parachute


We’ve heard about restaurants planning to deliver sushi or pizzas by drones, but what’s the most efficient way to get your customers their food when they are seven stories straight down? A pop-up restaurant in Melbourne, Australia thinks it has the answer, and has started to deliver sandwiches using mini parachutes.

The name Jafflechutes comes from the name "jaffie", Australian slang for a toasted sandwich, and of course the 'chutes used to deliver them. To get fed you first go to the Jafflechutes Facebook page to see where they are going to be setting up. Then you order online, and pay for your food using PayPal. When your sandwich is ready, you simply stand on a chalk "X" on the footpath, and wait for your food to descend. Hopefully, it won't get caught or bruised on the way down, and just in case it does drift off course, they do print your name on the wrapper.

While it’s a little like those food-drops that relief agencies make over war-ravaged countries, there is some method to the madness. In most cities, renting street level restaurant space is prohibitively expensive, so a lot of cooks move their operation onto food trucks to save money. The parachute delivery system offers an interesting alternative to that approach, allowing a cook to rent cheaper upper floor space, while still allowing them to get their creations to hungry diners quickly.

(Mar ‘14)



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