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touchscreen technology

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Original author: 
Lee Hutchinson

Apparently, I'm a Bitcoin miner now, and it looks like I'm actually pretty good at it. Ars is currently in possession of one of the elusive but very real Butterfly Labs Bitcoin Miners. It's a tiny little black box that fits in the palm of my hand, and it contains a specialized ASIC adept at chewing through SHA-256 cryptographic functions—exactly the kind of calculations necessary to bring more Bitcoins into the world. Turns out, it's very good at what it does: it computes hashes at the rate of about 5.3 billion per second.


The Butterfly Labs Bitcoin Miner. Lee Hutchinson


Close-up of the ASIC's heat sink and some of the motherboard components. Lee Hutchinson


The Miner disassembled. That 80mm fan gets pretty darn loud. Lee Hutchinson

I've got any number of computers around the house here to try the Butterfly Labs box out with, but I took the masochistic route and chose to try it out on OS X. This took quite a bit of back-and-forth with John O'Mara, creator of the popular MacMiner Bitcoin mining application. After several hours of troubleshooting, we eventually arrived at success. Here it is, happily churning away:


The Butterfly Labs Bitcoin Miner chewing its way through calculations at more than five billion hashes per second. Lee Hutchinson

According to my trusty Kill-A-Watt, the miner is drawing a pretty constant 50 watts at a similarly constant 0.73 amps. Its 80mm fan is whirring at what can only be described as "hair dryer" levels. According to MacMiner, the ASIC is generating a fair amount of heat, too—it's reporting a temperature of more than 80C.

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Original author: 
Andrew Cunningham


The Galaxy S 4's display is a sizable step forward for PenTile AMOLED, according to DisplayMate's Raymond Soneira.

Florence Ion

We've already given you our subjective impressions of Samsung's Galaxy S 4 and its 1080p AMOLED display, but for those of you who hunger for quantitative data, Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate has given the phone an in-depth shakedown. Soneira compares the screen's brightness, contrast, color gamut, and power consumption to both the Galaxy S III (which also uses an AMOLED display) and the IPS panel in the iPhone 5. What he found was that Samsung's AMOLED technology is still fighting against some of its inherent weaknesses, but it has made great strides forward even since the Galaxy S III was released last year.

To recap: both the S III and S 4 use PenTile AMOLED screens, which use a slightly different pixel arrangement than traditional LCD screens. A pixel in a standard LCD panel has one red, one green, and one blue stripe; PenTile uses alternating red-green-blue-green subpixels, taking advantage of the eye's sensitivity to green to display the same image using fewer total subpixels. These screens cost less to manufacture but can have issues with color accuracy and text crispness. The backlight for each type of display is also different—white LEDs behind the iPhone's display shine through the red, green, and blue subpixels to create an image, while the AMOLED subpixels are self-lit. This has implications for brightness, contrast, and power consumption.


A close-up shot of PenTile AMOLED in the Nexus One, when the tech was much less mature. Luke Hutchinson

We'll try to boil Soneira's findings down to their essence. One of the S 4's benefits over its predecessor is (obviously) its pixel density, which at 441 ppi is considerably higher than either its predecessor or the iPhone 5. Soneira says that this helps it to overcome the imbalance between PenTile's green subpixels and its less numerous red and blue ones, which all but banishes PenTile's "fuzzy text" issues:

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Original author: 
Andrew Cunningham

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Welcome back to our three-part series on touchscreen technology. Last time, Florence Ion walked you through the technology's past, from the invention of the first touchscreens in the 1960s all the way up through the mid-2000s. During this period, different versions of the technology appeared in everything from PCs to early cell phones to personal digital assistants like Apple's Newton and the Palm Pilot. But all of these gadgets proved to be little more than a tease, a prelude to the main event. In this second part in our series, we'll be talking about touchscreens in the here-and-now.

When you think about touchscreens today, you probably think about smartphones and tablets, and for good reason. The 2007 introduction of the iPhone kicked off a transformation that turned a couple of niche products—smartphones and tablets—into billion-dollar industries. The current fierce competition from software like Android and Windows Phone (as well as hardware makers like Samsung and a host of others) means that new products are being introduced at a frantic pace.

The screens themselves are just one of the driving forces that makes these devices possible (and successful). Ever-smaller, ever-faster chips allow a phone to do things only a heavy-duty desktop could do just a decade or so ago, something we've discussed in detail elsewhere. The software that powers these devices is more important, though. Where older tablets and PDAs required a stylus or interaction with a cramped physical keyboard or trackball to use, mobile software has adapted to be better suited to humans' native pointing device—the larger, clumsier, but much more convenient finger.

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Original author: 
Ars Staff

This week at Ars Technica we saw the rise of Bitcoin in the popular consciousness and the unraveling of Prenda Law, the infamous porn-trolling firm that is battling possible sanctions against its lawyers. We looked at modeling tectonic plates in sugar water and we reviewed the HTC First—the phone that will carry Facebook's latest foray into the mobile world. Think you missed something important? Take a look at the list below and see if you need to catch up on anything before the next week.

Plant Technica bonus round: How to create near-infinite clones of your favorite tomato (or any) plant

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Original author: 
Florence Ion

Losing your phone or having your tablet fall to its death can be hard on anyone, especially in this day and age where mobile devices have become an essential part of our lives. Just like with any computer, backing up your mobile apps and data can prove worthy when disaster strikes—or just after you’ve purchased a new phone and simply need to migrate data.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of applications in the Google Play store that provide backup services for devices of all types, but only a few we thought were worth considering. We tried to pick out the ones that stood out to us the most and offered what we’d want from a backup suite for our non-rooted devices. If you have any suggestions of applications you’ve used to back up your Android device that aren't listed here, feel free to tell us about it in the comments. We’ll do a follow-up in next week’s Android app roundup with your suggestions.

G Cloud Backup, Free

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Original author: 
Andrew Cunningham

Andrew Cunningham / Aurich Lawson

A desktop PC used to need a lot of different chips to make it work. You had the big parts: the CPU that executed most of your code and the GPU that rendered your pretty 3D graphics. But there were a lot of smaller bits too: a chip called the northbridge handled all communication between the CPU, GPU, and RAM, while the southbridge handled communication between the northbridge and other interfaces like USB or SATA. Separate controller chips for things like USB ports, Ethernet ports, and audio were also often required if this functionality wasn't already integrated into the southbridge itself.

As chip manufacturing processes have improved, it's now possible to cram more and more of these previously separate components into a single chip. This not only reduces system complexity, cost, and power consumption, but it also saves space, making it possible to fit a high-end computer from yesteryear into a smartphone that can fit in your pocket. It's these technological advancements that have given rise to the system-on-a-chip (SoC), one monolithic chip that's home to all of the major components that make these devices tick.

The fact that every one of these chips includes what is essentially an entire computer can make keeping track of an individual chip's features and performance quite time-consuming. To help you keep things straight, we've assembled this handy guide that will walk you through the basics of how an SoC is put together. It will also serve as a guide to most of the current (and future, where applicable) chips available from the big players making SoCs today: Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Intel, and AMD. There's simply too much to talk about to fit everything into one article of reasonable length, but if you've been wondering what makes a Snapdragon different from a Tegra, here's a start.

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Original author: 
Florence Ion

If you've ever needed a temporary phone number for whatever reason, there are several apps out there that you could turn to. Last summer, we wrote about Burner, an application on iOS that enables users to take on another phone number for a small fee. Unlike Google Voice or Skype, the app can assign your mobile phone a new number with just the touch of a button. Today, Burner has made its app available to Android users.



To make a burner phone number with the app, select the “Create Burner” button to choose an area code and then input the number the burner should forward to (it will automatically default to the number on your mobile phone). Unfortunately, you can’t use a land line as the callback number, because the number requires text message verification. You can then pick from a variety of burner options, with the most standard being the Mini Burner for $1.99, which offers a number valid for a week, 20 minutes, or 60 texts. After that, the number is effectively disposed of. There are also payment tiers: eight credits for $4.99, 15 for $7.99, or 25 for $11.99.

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Original author: 
Casey Johnston


"I forgot how fun it was to read a school textbook."

j.lee43

There exists a textbook that will report back to your professors about whether you’ve been reading it, according to a report Tuesday from the New York Times. A startup named CourseSmart now offers an education package to schools that allows professors to, among other things, monitor what their students read in course textbooks as well as passages they highlight.

CourseSmart acts as a provider of digital textbooks working with publishers like McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and John Wiley and Sons. The NY Times describes books in use at Texas A&M University, which present an “engagement index” to professors that can be used to evaluate students’ performance in class.

The article cites a couple of examples where professors attribute students’ low grades to the CourseSmart-provided proof that the student never, or rarely, opened their books. The engagement index shows not only what, but when, students are reading, so if they opt not to peruse the textbook until the day or night before a test, the professor will know.

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Original author: 
Casey Johnston


A demo of how to use the mirror API and its output during Timothy Jordan's talk.

If you’re looking for a taste of what it will be like to develop for Google Glass, the company posted a video demonstrating the hardware and a little bit of the API on Thursday. Timothy Jordan, a senior developer advocate at Google, gave a talk at SXSW in early March that lasted just shy of an hour and gave a look into the platform.

Google Glass bears more similarity to the Web than the Android mobile operating system, so developing for it is simpler than creating an Android application. During the talk, Jordan goes over some the functionality developers can get out of the Mirror API, which allows apps to pop Timeline Cards into a user’s view, as well as show new items from services the user might be subscribed to (weather, wire services, and so forth).

Jordan also shows how users can interact with items that crop up using the API. When the user sees something they like, for instance, they can re-share it with a button or “love” it.

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Original author: 
Florence Ion

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

It's hard to believe that just a few decades ago, touchscreen technology could only be found in science fiction books and film. These days, it's almost unfathomable how we once got through our daily tasks without a trusty tablet or smartphone nearby, but it doesn't stop there. Touchscreens really are everywhere. Homes, cars, restaurants, stores, planes, wherever—they fill our lives in spaces public and private.

It took generations and several major technological advancements for touchscreens to achieve this kind of presence. Although the underlying technology behind touchscreens can be traced back to the 1940s, there's plenty of evidence that suggests touchscreens weren't feasible until at least 1965. Popular science fiction television shows like Star Trek didn't even refer to the technology until Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, almost two decades after touchscreen technology was even deemed possible. But their inclusion in the series paralleled the advancements in the technology world, and by the late 1980s, touchscreens finally appeared to be realistic enough that consumers could actually employ the technology into their own homes. 

This article is the first of a three-part series on touchscreen technology's journey to fact from fiction. The first three decades of touch are important to reflect upon in order to really appreciate the multitouch technology we're so used to having today. Today, we'll look at when these technologies first arose and who introduced them, plus we'll discuss several other pioneers who played a big role in advancing touch. Future entries in this series will study how the changes in touch displays led to essential devices for our lives today and where the technology might take us in the future. But first, let's put finger to screen and travel to the 1960s.

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