TicoByte for February, 2012

Dear PC Club of Costa Rica Members,

The next club meeting will be this coming Saturday, February 18th, at the Pan American School in Belen at 9am.  Coffee and snacks will available from 8:30 AM for those who like to come early and chat.  Bring computer items that you want to sell or give away; we’ll have a table where you can display them.

Here are some items of interest:

Item 1.  Yet another “Top Trends” from CES.

You’ve been hearing a lot about the Consumer Electronics Show, I know.  But it is the biggest event of the year in computing and this is a group of videos from famous reporters at the show.  It may stutter a little if your bandwidth is low, but it’s worth a look.

Item 2.  MegaUpload folks arrested in New Zealand.

As mentioned in last month’s club meeting, the MegaUpload site has been shut down, its operators the have been arrested, and much of their property has been confiscated.  Look here for pictures of those arrested and a really pretty Rolls Royce Phantom.

Item 3.  Linux had a lot of ups and downs in 2011, but it’s still going strong.

Jack Wallen has published 2011: A Year Full of Right and Wrong for Linux, where he pointed out high and low points for the open-source operating system.  He gave Linux Mint 12 the highest marks and panned Ubuntu.

Item 4.  Preteens are making contributions to science and technology.

Nicole Bremer Nash has highlighted last year’s most amazing geek kids. From a 10-year-old who discovered a new supernova to a 7-year-old who designed a game for mobile phones, talent is emerging ever earlier in our species.

Item 5. The first modern computer is being restored.

Alan Turing’s Colossus computer, used by the British in WWII to break the German Enigma code, is being restored in Bletchley Park, England. You can see a film of the machine in action.  It’s somewhat amazing to me to compare the capability of this huge machine with that of a modern tablet.  Also, check out the ENIAC, built in the USA in 1946 to make artillery calculations, which was the first all-electronic, multipurpose computer.  It really wasn’t that long ago.

Item 6.  Robots are taking new shapes and learning new tricks.

Microsoft’s Kinect device is proving to be good for more than playing games by wiggling your arms and hopping up and down.  At MIT, it’s helping robots to do things from baking cookies, to understanding the space they’re in, to taking wheelchair patients to their room by voice command.  New shapes are emerging, too, from robot kayaks to fruit flies.

Item 7.  Did you know about the new features in Windows 7’s Calculator?

Microsoft has expanded the calculator by adding new modes (e.g., Programming), a history feature (sort of like paper tape), some new views that let you see the difference between two dates or convert units of measurement, and worksheets for mortgage or fuel economy calculations.

Item 8.  Jason Hiner has a new take on Steve Jobs.

While I don’t agree with everything in this article, I’m impressed with the idea that a liberal-arts dropout can do well by focusing on the human side of technology.  

Item 9.  Soothsayers continue to speculate about tablets.

Patrick Gray’s article, Tablet Trends and Game Players in 2012, has some interesting general observations about what we can look forward to in tablets this year.

Item 10.  Famous universities are beginning to offer free online courses.

Smartplanet reports that MIT and Stanford are offering free non-credit courses online.  MIT is planning to expand its online offerings and to even allow credit for a modest fee.

Item 11.  Chinese train exceeds 300 MPH.

How would you like to take a train from New York to San Francisco in 8 ½ hours?  That’s how long it would take China’s new bullet train to make the trip.

Item 12.  Linux Mint adds spice with Cinnamon.

Linux Mint has rejected the GNOME environment and launched its own Cinnamon desktop.  Linux fans should check it out.

Item 13.  Are Android apps and advertisers a little too cozy?

Did you know that marketing companies supplying ads to Android apps are privy to the same user information supplied to the app developer?  Michael Kassner points out what should be obvious, but sometimes isn’t.

Item 14.  How about a robot snake controlled by dog barks?

It may sound crazy, but it can save lives in a disaster.  IEEE Spectrum reports that rescue dogs, trained to bark when they smell a human in rubble, can deploy a robot snake that gives rescuers a picture of the situation.  The Canine-Assisted Robot Deployment (CARD) system works.

Item 15.  Yet another CES report: Would you drop a bowling ball on your iPad?

Bill Detwiler stops at the G-Form booth to try their amazing protective sleeve for tablets.  Watch the video!  If you wait after it’s over, it will even play other entertaining short videos.  It’s almost like being there.

Item 16.  Burt Rutan has designs on making space travel less expensive.

Famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan has designed space ships using methods more practical than NASA’s.  He’s teamed up with Virgin Galactic in the near-term. Despite the somewhat cowboy-style look and commercial approach of the venture, it actually has made trips into space at a tiny fraction of NASA’s costs.  A longer-term effort with Microsoft’s Robert Allen will compete for deliveries to the International Space Station.

Item 17.  Just in: MacWorld 2012 (aka iWorld)

CNET News has released a report on this year’s MacWorld Convention through TechNet.  The gathering featured accessories, software, and many interesting advertising gambits.

Item 18.  Firefox 10 is out.

Version 10 of the venerable Firefox browser is now available for installation.  If you already have Firefox, click on the “Firefox” box in the upper-left corner, hover over “Help”, and click on “About Firefox”.  You will see your current version number and a button for “Updates”.  Click on the button and Firefox will update itself to the current version.  It may take a while, so be patient.

Item 19.  Facebook is finally going public.

Jason Hiner has some unflattering remarks about Facebook’s Initial Public Offering (IPO).  The company plans to raise $5B in it’s IPO, which will happen soon.  This is yet another example of news that I couldn’t postpone until next month’s Tico Byte, even though this month’s has gotten really full.

Dick Sandlin

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