Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
glowend writes "I just listened to a fascinating podcast with Valve's economist-in-residence, Yanis Varoufakis, about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve where there is no hierarchy or bosses. Teams of software designers join spontaneously to create and ship video games without any top-down supervision. Varoufakis discussed the economics of this Hayekian workplace and how it actually functions alongside Steam — a gaming platform created by Valve. I kept wondering: assuming that his description of Valve is accurate, can this model work for other tech companies?"
alphadogg writes "Cisco has offered to 'take back' routers it sold to West Virginia if the state finds they are inappropriate for its needs, according to a post on wvgazette.com. The offer is in response to a state auditor's finding (PDF) that West Virginia wasted $8 million — and perhaps as much as $15 million — in acquiring 1,164 ISR model 3945 branch routers from Cisco in 2010 for $24 million in federal stimulus funds, or over $20,000 per router. The auditor found that hundreds of sites around the state — libraries, schools and State Police facilities — could have been just as suitably served with lower-end, less expensive routers."
Billly Gates writes "It appears Microsoft is following Chrome's agile development model like Mozilla did. At a recent tech conference, Kurt DelBene, president of the Office division, said they have mechanisms in place to update Office on a quarterly basis. Of course to get these new wondrous features and bugfixes you have to have a subscription to Office 365. Are the customers who most prefer subscriptions (corporate) going to want new things in the enterprise every 90 days? It is frustrating to see so many of them still on IE 7, XP, and Office 2003, which hurts Windows and Office sales and holds back innovation. At the same time, the accountants notice significant savings by keeping I.T. costs down with decade/semi decade updates to their images, while I.T. only puts out fires in between. Will this bring change to that way of doing things, or will Microsoft's cloud offerings with outsourced Exchange and Sharepoint make up for it using cost savings and continually updated software in the enterprise?"
An anonymous reader writes "We've talked previously about Texan gunsmith Cody Wilson's efforts to create 3-D-printable parts for firearms. He has a printed magazine that can withstand normal operation for quite a while. But he's also been working on building parts of the gun itself. An early version of a 3-D printed 'lower receiver' — the part of the gun holding the operating parts — failed after firing just 6 rounds. Now, a new video posted by Wilson's organization shows their design has improved enough to withstand over 600 rounds. Plus, their test only ended because they used up their ammunition; they say the receiver could have easily withstood a thousand rounds or more. Speaking to Ars, Wilson gave some insight into his reasoning behind this creation with regard to gun laws. 'I believe in evading and disintermediating the state. It seemed to be something we could build an organization around. Just like Bitcoin can circumvent financial mechanisms. ... The message is in what we're doing—the message is: download this gun.' A spokesperson for the ATF said that while operating a business as a firearm manufacturer requires a license, an individual manufacturing one for personal use is legal."
dstates writes "ProPublica, the award winning public interest journalism group and frequently cited Slashdot source, has published an interesting guide to app technology for journalism and a set of data and style guides. Journalism presents unique challenges with potentially enormous but highly variable site traffic, the need to serve a wide variety of information, and most importantly, the need to quickly develop and vet interesting content, and ProPublica serves lots of data sets in addition to the news. They are also doing some cool stuff like using AI to generate specific narratives from tens of thousands of database entries illustrating how school districts and states often don't distribute educational opportunities to rich and poor kids equally. The ProPublica team focuses on some basic practical issues for building a team, rapidly and flexibly deploying technology and insuring that what they serve is correct. A great news app developer needs three key skills: the ability to do journalism, design acumen and the ability to write code quickly — and the last is the easiest to teach. To build a team they look to their own staff rather than competing with Google for CS grads. Most news organizations use either Ruby on Rails or Python/Django, but more important than which specific technology you choose is to just pick a server-side programming language and stick to it. Cloud hosting provides news organizations with incredible flexibility (like increasing your capacity ten-fold for a few days around the election and then scaling back the day after), but they're not as fast as real servers, and cloud costs can scale quickly relative to real servers. Maybe a news app is not the most massive 'big data' application out there, but where else can you find the challenge of millions of users checking in several times a day for the latest news, and all you need to do is sort out which of your many and conflicting sources are providing you with straight information? Oh, and if you screw up, it will be very public."
ios and web coder writes "An article at Ars notes, 'Unmanned aircraft crash. In fact, they crash a lot—though there's no recent specific data, the Congressional Research Service reported last year that despite improvements, "the accident rate for unmanned aircraft is still far above that of manned aircraft.' And while many of those accidents can be attributed to being exposed to hostile fire or operating in conditions when aircraft normally wouldn't, a significant percentage of drone crashes is caused by human error. A December 2004 FAA study of Defense Department drone crashes found human factors to be a causal factor in about a third of the cases they examined (PDF).' Drones are un-cheap. As yesterday's Super Hornet story noted, they are cheaper than manned planes... but not that much cheaper. Expect them to get more expensive. Also, as they get armed, the price paid for a bad UX decision could become quite tragic."
yenrabbit writes "A friend has just told me he has 80 CRT TVs, a stack of DVD players and hundreds of VCR machines, all broken and all mine free of charge. I can already think of a few awesome components I can extract (flyback transformers for high voltage contraptions and so on) and have a few ideas, such as DVD lasers, that I can build. But what else can be made from such a treasure-trove of components, and how would one go about processing such a large volume of stuff with the least amount of effort? Also, I don't have access to online shopping so I'd also like a pain free way of salvaging many simpler parts such as resistors as well." Another reader sent in a similar question: "The other day I went down to my University's property disposition center for the first time. In addition to mundane things like chairs and desks, it also had a wealth of technological devices, from old PCs and monitors to obscure medical and chemistry equipment. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed. I just don't know what I'd do with a old gene sequencing machine or a broken oscilloscope. Any ideas for fun projects? Or better yet, suggestions on how I can figure out which machines (or their components) are worth playing with?"
Bennett Haselton writes "The U.S. government recently announced that academic papers on federally-funded research should become freely available online within one year of publication in a journal. But the real question is why academics don't simply publish most papers freely anyway. If the problem is that traditional journals have a monopoly on the kind of prestige that can only be conferred by having your paper appear in their hallowed pages, that monopoly can easily be broken, because there's no reason why open-access journals can't confer the same imprimatur of quality." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts on the great free-access debate.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Computer games are big business, with millions of players and billions of dollars in revenue every year. But that popularity puts game studios in a tough spot, especially when it comes to mobile games that need to serve their players a constant stream of updates and rewards. That pressure is leading to an interesting phenomenon: while IT companies that create more 'serious' software (i.e., productivity apps, business tools, etc.) are often viewed as cutting edge, it might be game developers actually doing the most innovative stuff when it comes to analytics, cloud and high-performance computing, and so on. Broken Bulb Studios, Hothead Games, and some other studios (along with some hosting companies) talk about how they've built their platforms to handle immense (and fluctuating) demand from gamers."
Later today, the U.S. government will enter the sequestration process, a series of across-the-board budget cuts put into place automatically because U.S. politicians are bad at agreeing on things. "At that moment, somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury Department, officials will take offline the computers that process payments for school construction and clean energy bonds to reprogram them for reduced rates. Payments will be delayed while they are made manually for the next six weeks." The cuts will directly affect science- and tech-related spending throughout the country. Tom Levenson writes, '[s]equester cuts will strike bluntly across the scientific community. The illustrious can move a bit of money around, but even in large labs, a predictable result will be a reduction in the number of graduate student and post – doc slots available — and as those junior and early-stage researchers do a whole lot of the at-the-bench level research, such cuts will have an immediate effect on research productivity. The longer term risk is obvious too: fewer students and post-docs mean on an ongoing drop from baseline in the amount of work to be done year over year.' The former director of the National Institute of Health says it will set back medical science for a generation. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has laid out how the cuts will affect the U.S. space program. He said, "The Congress wasn’t able to do what they were supposed to do, so we’re going to suffer." The sequester will also prevent billions of dollars from flowing into the tech industry. This comes at a time when there's a pressing need in the tech sector for professionals versed in the use of Linux, and salaries for those workers are on the rise.
Dr Max sends this excerpt from an AP report: "U.S. prosecutors won a New Zealand court victory Friday in their battle to extradite Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and three colleagues accused of facilitating massive copyright fraud through the now-defunct online file-sharing site. The appeals court overturned an earlier ruling that would have allowed Dotcom and the others broad access to evidence in the case against them at the time of their extradition hearing, which is scheduled for August. The appeals court ruled that extensive disclosure would bog down the process and that a summary of the U.S. case would suffice. Dotcom says he's innocent and can't be held responsible for those who chose to use the site to illegally download songs or movies."
curtwoodward writes "MIT researchers looked at 150 of the school's spin-out companies in manufacturing businesses over a decade, and found many of them hit the same chasm: Once it was time to ramp up to large-scale production, they couldn't find domestic investors and had to go overseas. The bulk of the research will be published later this year, but it raises an interesting conundrum — if an MIT-pedigreed company has serious trouble ramping up production in the U.S., how much harder is it for the 'average' business that wants to grow? Is it even still possible to do high-tech manufacturing here — or should it be?" Intel seems to be doing OK with U.S. manufacturing, but they have the advantage of established operations.
theodp writes "By trotting out politicians (Bill Clinton, Mike Bloomberg, Marco Rubio, Al Gore) and celebrities (Chris Bosh, will.i.am, Ashton Kutcher), Tuesday's Code.org launch certainly was a home run with the media. But will it actually strike a chord with kids and inspire them to code? Dave Winer has his doubts, and explains why — as someone who truly loves programming — code.org rubbed him the wrong way. 'I don't like who is doing the pitching,' says Winer, 'and who isn't. Out of the 83 people they quote, I doubt if many of them have written code recently, and most of them have never done it, and have no idea what they're talking about.' Code.org's because-you-can-make-a-lot of-money-doing-it pitch also leaves Dave cold. So, why should one code, Dave? 'Primarily you should do it because you love it, because it's fun — because it's wonderful to create machines with your mind. Hugely empowering. Emotionally gratifying. Software is math-in-motion. It's a miracle of the mind. And if you can do it, really well, there's absolutely nothing like it.' Nice. So, could Code.org use less soulless prattle from 'leaders and trendsetters' and more genuine passion from programmers?" Just force all ninth graders to learn Scheme instead of Microsoft Word.
On the heels of their December release, the 13.02 release of the Genode multi-server microkernel OS framework continues to deliver major new features. Under the hood, there's support for the IOMMU, bringing safe bus master DMA to userspace drivers (overcoming one of the final advantages monolithic kernels had). They've also added full virtualization support, good enough to boot Linux as an application. In the cool department, they've added a new low latency audio interface that could very well pave the way for something akin to JACK, and right now provides a lightweight way for the system to beep at you in real time . A few more libraries have been ported (libssh, curl, iconv) in preparation for a port of git to the Noux native GNU runtime. There are also a bunch of other improvements to their NOVA microkernel, support for running on the Exynos 5250 and Freescale i.MX53, a new console multiplexer, improvements to the display server, simplification of the base libraries, and more. I'll be attempting to build it and give it a spin to see how well it works in practice sometime soon.
Zordak writes "According to Law 360, H.R. 845, the 'Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes' (SHIELD) Act of 2013 would require non-practicing entities that lose in patent litigation to pay the full legal costs of accused infringers. The new bill (PDF) would define a 'non-practicing entity' as a plaintiff that is neither the original inventor or assignee of a patent, and that has not made its own 'substantial investment in exploiting the patent.' The bill is designed to particularly have a chilling effect on 'shotgun' litigation tactics by NPEs, in which they sue numerous defendants on a patent with only a vague case for infringement. Notably, once a party is deemed to be an NPE early in the litigation, they will be required to post a bond to cover the defendants' litigation costs before going forward."