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Chaos Computer Club have given Apple one in the eye by undermining their fingerprint biometric security feature within 48 hours of the handset being in the publics hands. This makes the NYPD pavement pounding exhortations of the merits of the 5S security ring a little more hollow. Rest assured that Apple including such a feature is probably the thin wedge of biometrics featuring more in consumer devices. For one Valve, the online gaming colossus, have plans to include biometrics in their forthcoming console Steambox. That's a concerning trend, given the amount of countries already deploying the technology within organs of the state. So what else other biometrics can we expect to see in the gadgets of the near future?

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 DARPA)

As unmanned aerial vehicles continue to populate the skies above battlefields and college campuses faster than anyone can count them, the US government has taken a keen interest in equipping them with an increasing number of state-of-the-art surveillance technologies. The latest to be revealed is DARPA’s frightening ARGUS-IS, a record-setting 1.8 gigapixel sensor array which can observe and record an area half the size of Manhattan. The newest in the family of "wide area persistent surveillance" tools, the system can detect and track moving objects as small as six inches from 20,000 feet in the air.

But what’s most terrifying about ARGUS (fittingly named after Argus Panoptes, the 100-eyed giant of Greek myth) is what happens...

Continue reading…

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IBM's integrated silicon nanophotonics transceiver on a chip; optical waveguides are highlighted here in blue, and the copper conductors of the electronic components in yellow.

IBM Research

IBM has developed a technology that integrates optical communications and electronics in silicon, allowing optical interconnects to be integrated directly with integrated circuits in a chip. That technology, called silicon nanophotonics, is now moving out of the labs and is ready to become a product. It could potentially revolutionize how processors, memory, and storage in supercomputers and data centers interconnect.

Silicon nanophotonics were first demonstrated by IBM in 2010 as part of IBM Research's efforts to build Blue Waters, the NCSA supercomputer project that the company withdrew from in 2011. But IBM Research continued to develop the technology, and today announced that it was ready for mass production. For the first time, the technology "has been verified and manufactured in a 90-nanometer CMOS commercial foundry," Dr. Solomon Assefa, Nanophotonics Scientist for IBM Research, told Ars.

A single CMOS-based nanophotonic transceiver is capable of converting data between electric and optical with virtually no latency, handling a data connection of more than 25 gigabits per second. Depending on the application, hundreds of transceivers could be integrated into a single CMOS chip, pushing terabits of data over fiber-optic connections between processors, memory, and storage systems optically over distances ranging from two centimeters to two kilometers.

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First time accepted submitter thrae writes "Adapteva has just released the architecture and software reference manuals for their many-core Epiphany processors. Adapteva's goal is to bring massively parallel programming to the masses with a sub-$100 16-core system and a sub-$200 64-core system. The architecture has advantages over GPUs in terms of future scaling and ease of use. Adapteva is planning to make the products open source. Ars Technica has a nice overview of the project."


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Look at this incredible thing Ian Baker created. Look at it!

The PHP hammer

What you're seeing is not Photoshopped. This is an actual photo of a real world, honest to God double-clawed hammer. Such a thing exists. Isn't that amazing? And also, perhaps, a little disturbing?

That wondrous hammer is a delightful real-world acknowledgement of the epic blog entry PHP: A Fractal of Bad Design.

I can’t even say what’s wrong with PHP, because – okay. Imagine you have uh, a toolbox. A set of tools. Looks okay, standard stuff in there.

You pull out a screwdriver, and you see it’s one of those weird tri-headed things. Okay, well, that’s not very useful to you, but you guess it comes in handy sometimes.

You pull out the hammer, but to your dismay, it has the claw part on both sides. Still serviceable though, I mean, you can hit nails with the middle of the head holding it sideways.

You pull out the pliers, but they don’t have those serrated surfaces; it’s flat and smooth. That’s less useful, but it still turns bolts well enough, so whatever.

And on you go. Everything in the box is kind of weird and quirky, but maybe not enough to make it completely worthless. And there’s no clear problem with the set as a whole; it still has all the tools.

Now imagine you meet millions of carpenters using this toolbox who tell you “well hey what’s the problem with these tools? They’re all I’ve ever used and they work fine!” And the carpenters show you the houses they’ve built, where every room is a pentagon and the roof is upside-down. And you knock on the front door and it just collapses inwards and they all yell at you for breaking their door.

That’s what’s wrong with PHP.

Remember the immediate visceral reaction you had to the double-clawed hammer? That's exactly the reaction most sane programmers have to their first encounter with the web programming language PHP.

This has been going on for years. I published my contribution to the genre in 2008 with PHP Sucks, But It Doesn't Matter.

I'm no language elitist, but language design is hard. There's a reason that some of the most famous computer scientists in the world are also language designers. And it's a crying shame none of them ever had the opportunity to work on PHP. From what I've seen of it, PHP isn't so much a language as a random collection of arbitrary stuff, a virtual explosion at the keyword and function factory. Bear in mind this is coming from a guy who was weaned on BASIC, a language that gets about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield. So I am not unfamiliar with the genre.

Except now it's 2012, and fellow programmers are still writing long screeds bemoaning the awfulness of PHP!

What's depressing is not that PHP is horribly designed. Does anyone even dispute that PHP is the worst designed mainstream "language" to blight our craft in decades? What's truly depressing is that so little has changed. Just one year ago, legendary hacker Jamie Zawinski had this to say about PHP:

I used to think that PHP was the biggest, stinkiest dump that the computer industry had taken on my life in a decade. Then I started needing to do things that could only be accomplished in AppleScript.

Is PHP so broken as to be unworkable? No. Clearly not. The great crime of PHP is its utter banality. Its continued propularity is living proof that quality is irrelevant; cheap and popular and everywhere always wins. PHP is the Nickelback of programming languages. And, yes, out of frustration with the status quo I may have recently referred to Rasmus Lerdorf, the father of PHP, as history's greatest monster. I've told myself a million times to stop exaggerating.

The hammer metaphor is apt, because at its core, this is about proper tooling. As presciently noted by Alex Papadimoulis:

A client has asked me to build and install a custom shelving system. I'm at the point where I need to nail it, but I'm not sure what to use to pound the nails in. Should I use an old shoe or a glass bottle?

How would you answer the question?

  1. It depends. If you are looking to pound a small (20lb) nail in something like drywall, you'll find it much easier to use the bottle, especially if the shoe is dirty. However, if you are trying to drive a heavy nail into some wood, go with the shoe: the bottle will shatter in your hand.
  2. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way you are building; you need to use real tools. Yes, it may involve a trip to the toolbox (or even to the hardware store), but doing it the right way is going to save a lot of time, money, and aggravation through the lifecycle of your product. You need to stop building things for money until you understand the basics of construction.

What we ought to be talking about is not how terrible PHP is – although its continued terribleness is a particularly damning indictment – but how we programmers can culturally displace a deeply flawed tool with a better one. How do we encourage new programmers to avoid picking up the double clawed hammer in favor of, well, a regular hammer?

This is not an abstract, academic concern to me. I'm starting a new open source web project with the goal of making the code as freely and easily runnable to the world as possible. Despite the serious problems with PHP, I was forced to consider it. If you want to produce free-as-in-whatever code that runs on virtually every server in the world with zero friction or configuration hassles, PHP is damn near your only option. If that doesn't scare you, then check your pulse, because you might be dead.

Everything goes with PHP sauce! Including crushing depression.

Therefore, I'd like to submit a humble suggestion to my fellow programmers. The next time you feel the urge to write Yet Another Epic Critique of PHP, consider that:

  1. We get it already. PHP is horrible, but it's used everywhere. Guess what? It was just as horrible in 2008. And 2005. And 2002. There's a pattern here, but it's subtle. You have to look very closely to see it. On second thought, never mind. You're probably not smart enough to figure it out.
  2. The best way to combat something as pervasively and institutionally awful as PHP is not to point out all its (many, many, many) faults, but to build compelling alternatives and make sure these alternatives are equally pervasive, as easy to set up and use as possible.

We've got a long way to go. One of the explicit goals of my next project is to do whatever we can to buff up a … particular … open source language ecosystem such that it can truly compete with PHP in ease of installation and deployment.

From my perspective, the point of all these "PHP is broken" rants is not just to complain, but to help educate and potentially warn off new coders starting new codebases. Some fine, even historic work has been done in PHP despite the madness, unquestionably. But now we need to work together to fix what is broken. The best way to fix the PHP problem at this point is to make the alternatives so outstanding that the choice of the better hammer becomes obvious.

That's the PHP Singularity I'm hoping for. I'm trying like hell to do my part to make it happen. How about you?

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If you've studied design at all, you've probably encountered Lorem Ipsum placeholder text at some point. Anywhere there is text, but the meaning of that text isn't particularly important, you might see Lorem Ipsum.

Tintin-lipsum

Most people recognize it as Latin. And it is. But it is arbitrarily rearranged and not quite coherent Latin, extracted from a book Cicero wrote in 45 BC. Here's the complete quote, with the bits and pieces that make up Lorem Ipsum highlighted.

Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem, quia voluptas sit, aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos, qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt, neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum, quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci[ng] velit, sed quia non numquam [do] eius modi tempora inci[di]dunt, ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit, qui in ea voluptate velit esse, quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum, qui dolorem eum fugiat, quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga.

But what does it all mean? Here's an English translation with the same parts highlighted.

Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain.

Of course the whole point of Lorem Ipsum is that the words aren't supposed to mean anything, so attempting to divine its meaning is somewhat … unsatisfying, perhaps by design. Lorem Ipsum is a specific form of what is generally referred to somewhat cheekily as "Greeking":

Greeking is a style of displaying or rendering text or symbols, not always from the Greek alphabet. Greeking obscures portions of a work for the purpose of either emphasizing form over details or displaying placeholders for unavailable content. The name is a reference to the phrase "Greek to me", meaning something that one cannot understand, so that it might as well be in a foreign language.

So when you need filler or placeholder text, you naturally reach for Lorem Ipsum as the standard. The theory is that, since it's unintelligible, nobody will attempt to read it, but instead focus on other aspects of the design. If you put readable text in the design, people might think the text is important to the design, that the text represents the sort of content you expect to see, or that the text somehow itself needs to be copyedited and updated and critiqued.

(Regular readers of this blog may remember that I am fond of using Alice in Wonderland in this manner, when I need a bit of text to demonstrate something in a post.)

Lorem-ipsum

However, not everyone agrees that relying on a standard boilerplate greeked placeholder text is appropriate, even going so far as to call for the death of Lorem Ipsum. I think it depends what you're trying to accomplish. I once noted that it's better to use real content to avoid Blank Page Syndrome, for example.

There are quite a few websites that helpfully offer up the classic Lorem Ipsum text in various eminently copy-and-pastable forms.

Classic Lorem Ipsum

Beyond that, if you just want a bunch of, uh, interesting text to fill an area, there a lot – and I mean a lot – of websites to choose from. So many in fact that I was a little overwhelmed trying to index them all. I've tried to broadly categorize the ones I did find, below. If you know of more, feel free to leave a comment and I'll update the list.

Novelty

Clever English Tricks

Literature

Professions

Social Networks

TV, Movies and Media

Possibly NSFW

Regional

This is a lot to go through. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say Fillerati because it's all dignified and stuff. But I think truer to the spirit of Lorem Ipsum are definitely the homophonic transformations, which consistently blow my mind every time I attempt to read them. Isn't that the implied goal of any properly greeked text? You were one deliciously perverse professor of romance languages, Howard L. Chace.

In today's Pinteresting world, images are arguably more important than text. But what is the Lorem Ipsum of images? Is there even one? I guess you could just slap some Lorem Ipsum text in an image, but where is the fun in that? Anyway, there are also plenty of websites offering up placeholder images of various types to go along with your Lorum Ipsum placeholder text.

Images

I'm not sure the world needs any more Lorem Ipsum-alikes than we already have at this point. Like the market for ironic t-shirts, the Internet has ensured that our placeholder greeked text needs have not merely been met but vastly exceeded for the forseeable future. But after discovering all the creative things people have done with Lorem Ipsum, and text placeholders in general, it's sure tempting to dream yet another one up, isn't it?

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