Google Translate Boosted by Deep Learning

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 07:36 PM |
Tagged: google

Machine translation is quite difficult, especially between certain pairs of languages that vary greatly in how they handle implied context and intonation. At Google, the current translation system picks out known words and phrases, converts them to the target language, and blindly outputs them. This, unfortunately, ignores how the phrases are structured together.


Google has been working toward a newer system, though. Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) considers whole sentences, rather than individual words and phrases. It lists all possible translations, and weighs them based on how humans rate their quality. These values are stored and used to better predict following choices, which should be a familiar concept to those who have been reading up on deep learning over the last couple of years.

This new system makes use of Google's “TensorFlow” library, released to the public last year under a permissive, Apache 2.0 license. It will also be compatible with Google's custom Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) ASICs that were announced last May at Google I/O. The advantage of TPUs is that they can reach extremely high parallelism because they operate on extremely low-precision values.

The GNMT announcement showed the new system attempting to translate English to and from Spanish, French, and Chinese. Each pairing, in both directions, showed a definite increase, with French to English almost matching a human translation according to their quality metric. GNMT is currently live to the public when attempting to translate between Chinese and English, and Google will expand this to other languages “over the coming months”.

Source: ZDNet

HP Claims They're "Dedicated to the Best Printing Experience"

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 06:53 PM |
Tagged: hp, DRM

Recently, HP released a firmware update for some inkjet printers that disabled certain third-party cartridges. The claim is that the customer “is exposed to quality and potential security risks” when using counterfeit cartridges. I'm curious why HP is claiming that users shouldn't trust HP's abilities to secure their devices against attacks from malicious cartridges, but that's probably not an implication that HP considered when publishing this press release.


Also, if the intent was to inform users about counterfeit and potentially malicious cartridges, you would think that they would have provided an override method from the start. Thankfully, they are now. HP is preparing an optional firmware update that does not check cartridges. They claim that it will be available in a couple of weeks, and provide a link to where it will be hosted.

So yeah, they are doing the right thing now. Still... come on.

Source: HP

Even more VR gaming; this time it is Sword Master VR

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: VR, sword master vr, htc vive, gaming

With the amount of VR benchmarks coming out of [H]ard|OCP lately we wonder if they are in danger of becoming the worlds first VR addicts.  They tested the usual suite of two AMD cards and five NVIDIA to determine the amount of dropped frames and average render times in this particular game.  As it turns out the game is harder on the player than it is the GPU, all were able to provide decent experiences when swashbuckling.  The developer recommends you clear a 2x1.5m area to play this game and from what [H]ard|OCP experienced while playing this is no joke; you will get exercise while you are duelling some of the harder opponents.


"Do you want to fight the Black Knight in a sword fight? There is not exactly a "Black Knight" in Sword Master VR, but you can certainly get that feeling. In fact, you can fight him and a couple of his friends at the same time if you are up to the challenge. Just pull the sword from the stone for $10."

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Source: [H]ard|OCP

Poor headphone jack, more companies may adopt Apple's innovation

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 12:30 PM |
Tagged: USB 3 Type-C, headphones

There will be an improvement in audio support on Type-C USB connections which will decrease power demands, as USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specifications have just been announced.  When compared to the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB audio is a power hog which will shorten the amount of time your battery will last on a phone or other mobile device but it seems that the USB-IF have been working to overcome this issue.  Product manufacturers are looking forward to this as USB can be isolated from other internals far more effectively than the 3.5mm jack which would allow them to waterproof their devices. 

Hopefully the new compliance testing regime brought about after the consequences of using a bad cable to charge your laptop will ensure we do not have any related problems with audio devices.  The Register does remind us that Bluetooth 5 is yet to be commonly found on mobile devices and could offer yet another 3.5mm nail in the coffin.


"Hear that, children? That's the sound of another set of nails in the coffin of headphone jacks in mobile devices."

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Source: The Inquirer

China's Newly Completed FAST Now World's Largest Radio Telescope

Subject: General Tech | September 27, 2016 - 05:33 PM |
Tagged: seti, science, radio telescope

The Chinese officially began searching the stars around noon local time on Sunday using the newly completed FAST radio telescope which has surpassed Arecibo in being the world's largest single aperture telescope. Nestled in the natural Dawodang (limestone) depression in the remote and mountainous Pingtang county, Guizhou province, the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will search the heavens to catalog pulsars, investigate dark matter, gravitational waves, and fast radio bursts, and assist in the search for extraterrestrial life and natural hydrogen in distant galaxies.

The $180 million project has been in development for 14 years with construction beginning in 2011. The massive scientific endeavor required the relocation of several villages and 10,000 people living in the vicinity. Further, the remote area required the telescope to be constructed without the use of heavy machinery and the dish had to be constructed manually. FAST is modeled after the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico and uses 4,450 triangular reflector panels supported by a steel mesh suspended over the limestone valley using large steel towers anchored to the surrounding hills. FAST deviates from Arecibo when it comes to reflecting and receiving radio signals, however. While Arecibo uses a 900 ton movable receiver with a complex set of mirrors that make up a sub reflector, FAST uses 2,250 actuators (winches) that pull on up to 300m sections of the dish to create a parabola that can move in real time to track signals as the Earth rotates and reflect them back to the receiver which is reportedly much lighter and can contain more instruments than Arecibo.

While Arecibo, with its 305 meter dish, can track signals up to 20° from the zenith, FAST can track signals up to 26° from the zenith at 300 meter parabola sizes and up to 40° with smaller parabola sizes making it rather versatile. The massive dish combines the benefits of a large single fixed dish and a smaller dish (or dishes which could be combined to provide higher resolution using interferometry) that can tilt and rotate.

Specifically, Dennis Normile quoted experts in saying:

Single dishes excel at observing point sources like neutron stars and at scanning a multitude of frequencies in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says astronomer Li Di, a FAST project scientist, who previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Another advantage is that, compared with the multiple dishes in an array, single dishes are “relatively cheap and relatively straightforward to upgrade,” says George Hobbs, an astronomer at CSIRO. “You just keep building better receivers.” (Dennis Normile at Science Magazine)

FAST is quite the accomplishment and I am interested to see what the scientists are able to discover using the world's largest radio telescope. Hopefully it will continue to receive adequate funding!

Also read:

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Evoluent

The Handshake Approach

Evoluent is a maker of ergonomic mice and keyboards, and we received one of the company's vertical mice for review. At a glance you can see that it's a very different design than the typical mouse, as it is intended to be used with the arm in a "handshake" position.


"The patented ergonomic shape supports your hand in an upright neutral posture that eliminates forearm twisting. Many users said the Evoluent VerticalMouse provides superior comfort and even relieved their wrist pain."

The vertical design has been implemented to reduced strain on the arm and wrist, but how much of an adjustment is there in moving to this orientation? How sensitive and accurate is the sensor? Depending on your workload, precision might trump comfort, but if the VerticalMouse can provide both it would be quite an achievement.


To test it out I resolved to use the VerticalMouse with my PC exclusively for a week. It was a startling change at first, feeling quite foreign in the first minutes. For someone who uses a standard mouse hours a day (sound familiar?) I felt like I wasn't in control as I attempted to move the cursor around, and I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to adjust. But I pushed on, and rapidly began to grow accustomed to the feeling.

Switching to something that promises to ease discomfort doesn't always mean instant gratification, as any seller of orthopedic shoes can tell you. There is going to be a period of adjustment, with the end result outweighing any initial hesitation - when it's effective, of course. I could spoil the review a bit here and tell you if I'm still using the mouse after a week (I am), but I'll fully describe my impressions below.


Continue reading our review of the Evoluent VerticalMouse C Right wireless mouse!

It's a good time to be slinging lithium

Subject: General Tech | September 27, 2016 - 12:24 PM |
Tagged: lithium ion, battery

The price of lithium ion batteries is likely to spike in the near future as demand is far outstripping production.  While we are using them in ultramobile laptops, there is another quickly growing industry which consumes these same cylindrical lithium polymer based batteries, the electric car industry.  The demand has grown enough that suppliers are about to demand a noticeable raise in prices and as there does not seem to be any production increase they are likely to get it.  This will result in a small increase in price in ultraportables and a larger one in electric cars.  There is a concern that DigiTimes did not raise in their post; that this level of imbalance in supply and demand can lead to knock-offs and lower quality suppliers being considered as a source simply to ensure that a product is available. 

That could be somewhat of a concern; these batteries often hold a larger charge and are usually found in greater numbers than the ones currently in the news.


"In addition to the 18650 cylinder battery, the lithium polymer battery, which is commonly used in ultra-thin notebook models, is also suffering from shortages as many vendors including Apple, Acer and Asustek Computer, have all scheduled to released new ultra-thin notebooks models in the near future."

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Source: DigiTimes

Microsoft Announces Windows Defender Application Guard

Subject: General Tech | September 27, 2016 - 02:41 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, virtualization, microsoft

Microsoft is currently hosting their Ignite conference, which is somewhat the successor of TechEd. Monday kicked off with a couple of keynotes, including one from Satya Nadella himself, but this post will focus on a specific announcement: Windows Defender Application Guard.

With a typical web browser, a malicious website can infect the user's PC by knowing an unpatched vulnerability, and exploiting it before they update their browser. The next feature release of Windows 10 is expected to include virtualization technology, again called Windows Defender Application Guard, which runs websites in a lightweight virtual machine if they are opened in Edge and not part of a whitelist. This means that the attacker, who wants to infect the user's device, not only needs to know of a vulnerability in Edge; they also need to know of a vulnerability in the virtual machine, and they must be able to use the Edge vulnerability to exploit it. Especially for enterprise environments, where ransom malware that encrypts any data it finds can be devastating, this should add a huge wall protecting a large, complex application platform (the web browser) from untrusted third-parties (websites).

Of course, this concept isn't new. Not only are virtual PCs are common in the enterprise for security and control reasons, but applications like SandboxIE have more directly implemented similar ideas. Still, having it be a built-in feature of the operating system should mean that it gets even more support with regards to performance and stability, versus tacking on a third-party solution through public APIs.

Speaking of public APIs -- Microsoft won't be providing one at first. It will only be used for Edge for the time being. Also, it's only available for Windows 10 Enterprise, so I hope you didn't get your hopes up.

Wow, that turned dark real quick.

Source: Ars Technica

The toasters are revolting!

Subject: General Tech | September 26, 2016 - 01:01 PM |
Tagged: iot, security, upnp

Over the weekend you might have noticed some issues on your favourite interwebs as there was a rather impressively sized DDOS attack going on.  The attack was a mix of old and new techniques; they leveraged the uPNP protocol which has always been a favourite vector but the equipment hijacked were IoT appliances.  The processing power available in toasters, DVRs and even webcams is now sufficient to be utilized and is generally a damned sight easier to control than even an old unpatched XP machine.  This does not spell the end of the world which will likely be predicted on the cable news networks but does further illustrate the danger in companies producing inherently insecure IoT devices.  If you are not sure what uPNP is, or are aware but do not currently need it, consider disabling it on your router or think about setting up something along the lines of ye olde three router solution

Hack a Day has links to a bit more information on what happened here.


"Brace yourselves. The rest of the media is going to be calling this an “IoT DDOS” and the hype will spin out of control. Hype aside, the facts on the ground make it look like an extremely large distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) was just carried out using mostly household appliances (145,607 of them!) rather than grandma’s old Win XP system running on Pentiums."

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Source: Hack a Day

Can't WiFi and LTE-U just get along?

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2016 - 01:21 PM |
Tagged: wifi, lte-u, qualcomm

LTE-U, aka LTE in unlicensed spectrum, is a new standard originally proposed by Qualcomm which allows LTE signals to stray into the 5GHz band to allow faster data transfer over short throws without having to join your phone to a WiFi network.  It seems that the assumption is that users are to lazy or ignorant to have added their commonly used WiFi networks to their phones and so need this feature for convenience. 

There is the small problem of signal interference however, dual band WiFi uses the 5GHz spectrum and we are already seeing congestion on that band.  T-Mobile and Verizon claim that this extra traffic will not have any effect on WiFi signals and are already complaining about the thresholds they must honour, while Qualcomm seems to be trying to remain reasonable.  Tests are currently under way, under the monitoring of the WiFi Alliance, who have posted a technical paper describing what will be tested and how.  You can pop by The Register if you want to delve into the nuts and bolts of the current proposal.


"Carriers, already under a spectrum squeeze, are hoping they can pitch their tents on Wi-Fi's campground, promising that LTE-U won't disrupt Wi-Fi. will play nice if there are Wi-Fi users around."

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Source: The Register