Category: Technology


Five tech-related companies that may not see 2014

2012 certainly seemed to be near-apocalyptic for some technology companies. While Apple, Google, and Samsung had a great year, other firms that were once the pillars of the technology industry seemed to teeter. And members of the last decade’s Web 2.0 bubble rapidly deflated.

The gap between the winners and the losers of the current tech market is widening: Apple’s market capitalization alone is more than those of the top five PC manufacturers combined; Google is worth 10 Yahoos. With economic uncertainties still lingering and the pie continuing to shrink for the also-rans, the coming year may prove one where natural selection thins the herd.

Some of the companies that flirted with death in 2012 might be primed for a comeback. RIM has emerged as a smaller, leaner, but still unprofitable company, with its future staked on one big bet: the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system. Thanks to cost cutting (and huge staff cuts), RIM can stay alive even if BB10 doesn’t take the world by storm—but the company does have to stem the loss of corporate customers for its messaging and e-mail services. Depending on how early 2013 plays out for RIM, the company could retake a comfortable third position in the smartphone market, or it could end up licensing the OS to others and getting out of manufacturing entirely. Barring an acquisition, RIM will likely make it out of 2013 alive.

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The view from the cockpit of NASA’s DC-8 flying lab during an Operation IceBridge survey flight 500 meters above the Antarctic ice fields.

Mars and Antarctica have a lot in common—they’re both cold, inhospitable places with terrible broadband service. The crew of Operation IceBridge, NASA’s airborne survey of glaciers and ice shelves in the Arctic and Antarctic works with networking constraints similar to those of the Curiosity rover, keeping in contact with its ground crew at worse-than-dialup speeds using the lowest-bandwidth method possible: Internet Relay Chat.

In February of 2010, after seven years of operation, the final laser sensor on NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICEsat)  failed.  With its replacement not slotted to be launched until 2015, NASA launched Operation Ice Bridge to conduct aerial surveys to fill in the gap. Flying 500 meters above the surface in a precisely-planned pattern over the Antarctic ice sheets, the OIB aircraft—operated by the National Suborbital Education and Research Center at the University of North Dakota—carries ice-penetrating radar, a gravimeter for measuring variations in the density of the ice below, and an Airborne Topographic Mapper—a laser altimeter that combines GPS data with laser measurements to build a precise record of the elevation of the ice sheets.

But because of the poor satellite coverage in the Antarctic, the refitted vintage Douglas DC-8 airliner can’t use the Inmarsat BGAN service it normally uses for voice and data communication channels. “Like most high bandwidth satellite systems, the constellation is in geosynchronous orbit,” David Van Gilst, NSERC’s network engineer, told Ars in an e-mail interview.  “So once you get past 72-73 degrees latitude the satellites are so low in the sky as to be problematic. Past 80 degrees latitude, they’re below the horizon.”

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Programming for all, part 2: From concept to code

Do one thing, and do it well

In our first installment, we wrote several programs that really did nothing more than illustrate a concept. Let’s turn the complexity up a notch and compose a program that actually solves a problem. The problem we are tasked with: given the high temperature of the past three days, compute the average and standard deviation.

To do this, we are going to need to implement an algorithm, the programming equivalent to a set of directions. It gives the major steps that one must take in order to solve a problem, but the details of how are left up to the programmer who implements the algorithm. For our problem at hand, we could write out our algorithm as follows:

  1. Read in three values
  2. Compute the sum of these values
  3. Compute the average by dividing the sum by 3.
  4. Figure out how far each value is from the average.
  5. Add the distances obtained in step four
  6. Take the square root of the value in step five
  7. Divide by the square root of 3

So, let us set out to implement our remedial algorithm in MHF:

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On Saturday, Microsoft published a security advisory warning users of Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 that they could be vulnerable to remote code execution hacks. The company said that users of IE 9 and 10 were not susceptible to similar attacks and recommended that anyone using the older browsers upgrade. Still, customers who still run Windows XP can not upgrade to IE 9 and 10 without upgrading their OS.

Microsoft’s confirmation comes after reports from several security groups that the attack sprung from the Council of Foreign Relations website, creating a “watering hole attack” that left people who visited the site through older versions of the browser open to further attack.

The company has released a workaround for the problem, and said that it is working on a patch for IE 6, 7, and 8, but did not give a time period as to when those patches would be released. The Council of Foreign Relations told The Washington Free Beacon that it was investigating the situation and working to prevent security breaches like this down the line.

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This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 80+ Q&A sites.

kojiro Asks:

I’m asked to perform or sit in during many technical interviews. We ask logic questions and simple programming problems that the interviewee is expected to be able to solve on paper. (I would rather they have access to a keyboard, but that is a problem for another time.) Sometimes I sense that people know how to approach a problem, but they are hung up by nervousness or some second-guessing of the question.

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Some products burn bright; others fade away.

Thanks in part to the still-stagnant economy, the last year has seen more than the usual share of companies and products come and go. Some were beloved, some were depended upon, and others were…well, there’s a reason they’re not around anymore.

Not all companies and product lines are built to last; some are like shooting stars, grabbing our attention by their audacity and burning up quickly in the process. Others suffer deaths by lawsuit, corporate takeover, or simply the shifting whims of their creators. And others (like social coupons, for example) still linger painfully, continuing under their own inertia long after they by all rights should have ceased to exist.

So let us take a moment, then, to remember a few of the companies, brands, and products that went to the great electronic recycling center in the sky in 2012. Some you may still have traces of in your sock drawer; others may be slowly decaying in a stack somewhere in your IT department. Some of them will be sorely missed by their loyal customers. Others…again, not so much.

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The Raspberry Pi, the $35 credit card-sized computer, has lived an interesting life despite being less than a year old. It has been used to teach programming and host servers, but above all it has provided a near-perfect platform for some of the most fun and interesting hobbyist projects in the computing world.

Arcade cabinets, computing clusters housed in LEGOs, musical instruments, robots, and wearable computers are just some of the uses Pi owners have found. It turns out you can do a lot with an ARM processor, GPU, a few ports and GPIO pins, and an operating system (typically Linux-based) loaded onto an SD card. Here are 10 of the coolest Raspberry Pi creations we’ve been able to find.

A Pi-powered arcade cabinet

Lots of people have installed gaming emulators on the Raspberry Pi—not as many have used it to build an entire arcade cabinet. One such brave soul named Darren J described his epic MAME project in a guest post on the official Raspberry Pi blog last month.

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Windows 8: like it or loathe it, the OS dominated news in 2012.

The year in IT was filled with big changes, as Microsoft unveiled the future of Windows and former enterprise stalwart Research In Motion continued its distressing fall toward irrelevance. The year in IT also had its uplifting stories, from the birth of the Raspberry Pi to Red Hat’s success pairing financial success with a vision true to its open source ideals. And, of course, the year in IT also had its share of bizarre and perplexing stories, with the meltdown of Mitt Romney’s tech team and the rise and fall of the Windows tech support scammers. Here are our choices for the most interesting stories of the bunch—and we look forward to bringing you many more in 2013.

Windows 8 launch

October 26th saw the release of Microsoft’s latest—but not necessarily greatest—operating system: Windows 8. (Read our review.) The scope was ambitious. Windows 8 is striving to be an operating system that can comfortably handle iPad-style touch tablets while still running and working with decades of mouse-and-keyboard-driven desktop applications.

The result? An unpredictable hybrid. It’s chock full of welcome features and improvements over Windows 7, and it really is the first version of Windows to sport a proper, usable touch interface. But with these improvements come rough edges a-plenty, and an experience that just isn’t quite joined up.

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Installing a clean copy of Windows 8 on a new, crapware-infested PC is even easier than it was in Windows 7.

We may have a new version of Windows, but one story is still the same: buying a new Windows 8 PC means that you’re also buying a bunch of OEM-installed software that you didn’t ask for. This software ranges from the innocuous (Office 2010 demos) to the unnecessary (paid anti-virus trials, despite Windows 8’s baked-in antivirus scanner) to the actively useless (WildTangent games and unending superfluous system tray icons).

Much of this software can simply be uninstalled with no harm done, but if something goes wrong with your PC and you need to reinstall Windows, all of that crapware will usually come right back with it. For years now, most OEMs have neglected to include a “vanilla” Windows install disk with their computers, opting rather to include some sort of “restore partition” with all of the crapware baked in—this makes it difficult to perform a truly “clean” install of the operating system. On some computers, like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, these recovery materials dramatically reduce the amount of drive space accessible by the user.

To help out those of you who are planning to buy new PCs—or got them from Santa Claus—but don’t want to deal with all of this junk, we’re going to update our original Windows 7 bloatware removal guide for Microsoft’s latest operating system. Parts of the following will be transplanted from that article where appropriate, but while the reasons for performing a clean Windows install are the same, the actual process is often surprisingly different.

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Computers are ubiquitous in modern life. They offer us portals to information and entertainment, and they handle the complex tasks needed to keep many facets of modern society running smoothly. Chances are, there is not a single person in Ars’ readership whose day-to-day existence doesn’t rely on computers in one manner or another. Despite this, very few people know how computers actually do the things that they do. How does one go from what is really nothing more than a collection—a very large collection, mind you—of switches to the things we see powering the modern world?

We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

—Carl Sagan

At their base, even though they run much of the world, computers are one thing: stupid. A computer knows nothing. Its brain is little more than a large collection of on/off switches. The fact that you can play video games, browse the Internet, and pump gas at a gas station is thanks to the programs the computers have been given by a human. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the basic concepts of computer programming: how a person teaches a computer something and how the ideas encapsulated in the program go from something we can understand to something a computer understands.

First, it needs to be said that programming is not some black art, something arcane that only the learned few may ever attempt. It is a method of communication whereby a person tells a computer what, exactly, they want it to do. Computers are picky and stupid, but they will indeed do exactly as they are told. Therefore, each program you write should be like an elegant recipe that anyone—including a computer—can follow. Ideally, each step in a program should be clearly described and, if it is complicated, broken down into smaller steps to remove all doubt about what is to happen.

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