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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Governments from the local to the national are increasingly interested in "wellbeing," that subjective notion that's harder to measure than per capita income or GDP, that comes closer to capturing what we more vaguely think of as happiness. We'd all like to have it: quality of life, life satisfaction, fulfillment.
As researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan State University put it in a recent study on the topic, with a technological twist:
Happiness matters. For example, when a sample of Britons were asked what the prime objective of their government should be – “greatest happiness” or “greatest wealth”, 81% answered with happiness (Easton 2006). In a set of other studies conducted around the world, 69% of people on average rate well-being as their more important life outcome (Diener 2000). Psychologists still argue about how happiness should be defined, but few would deny that people desire it.
We typically gauge happiness, among individuals and whole communities or demographics, with survey questions like "how satisfied are you with your life?" But surveys cost money and contain their own biases. And so these academics, led by Johannes Eichstaedt and Andrew Schwartz, began to wonder if they could glean some sense of a community's wellbeing from the firehose of daily updates many of us voluntarily communicate about ourselves on Twitter.
Alexis Madrigal wrote several months ago about an earlier research project that tried something like this, manually coding the "happiness content" of tweets coming from different parts of the country to find the happiest cities in America. This latest study, also described by the authors on the Follow the Crowd research blog, takes a slightly different strategy and also dissects some of the correlates of "wellbeing" embedded in the language of our tweets.
The study examined 82 million tweets, mapped from nearly 1,300 U.S. counties and collected between June of 2009 and March of 2010 (each county had at least 30,000 twitter words geotagged to it). As the researchers found, Twitter can reveal a lot about wellbeing, not just among individuals (that's not such an impressive feat), but at the level of whole communities.
The researchers built a model of language drawn from these tweets that could significantly predict community-level wellbeing, as measured against more traditional results from surveys. Socio-eonomic information about a place is often considered a rough proxy for wellbeing (people tend to be happier when they're not broke). But these researchers found that by combining socio-economic data with this model of Twitter language, they could build a particularly powerful tool for predicting wellbeing, without the use of any formal surveys at all.
This map from the paper shows a measure of life satisfaction using more traditional survey results, in these same 1,300 counties:

"Characterizing Geographic Variation in Well-Being using Tweets" by Schwartz et al.
And here is a map from the researcher's own predictive model combining socioeconomic factors and Twitter language:

"Characterizing Geographic Variation in Well-Being using Tweets" by Schwartz et al.
Certain topics encoded in our tweets correlate particularly well with the counties that have high and low wellbeing. Tweets relating to exercise and the outdoors ("training," "gym," "waves," "mountains," "camping") rated positively, perhaps, the researchers suggest, tying back to evidence that exercise reduces the risk of depression.
Also on the high-wellbeing list: a cluster of words related to "ideas," "suggestions," and "advice," signs of people tapping their social networks to problem-solve. Tweets about "meetings" and "conferences" similarly suggest engagement. And tweets mentioning "support" and "donate" hint at pro-social activities that have also been linked to higher life satisfaction. These are some of the high-wellbeing (in green and blue) and low-wellbeing (red) word clusters that emerged from the study:
What's most compelling about the whole paper is that tweets from individual people seem to tell us something not just about their own wellbeing, but about the wellbeing of the places where they live. And this pattern holds even though we know that Twitter is its own self-selecting ecosystem, with an over-representation of young and technologically savvy users. As the researchers explain it (bold emphasis is ours):
The fundamental result of this paper is perhaps surprising: we can predict (on average) the happiness of one set of people (those who answered the [life satisfaction] questionnaires) from the tweets of other people (people in the same county). This is, however, consistent with findings from other methodologies. People in the same county tend to share the same culture and environmental affordances (e.g., hiking, music, or good employment), and attitudes towards them (being excited or bored).
Happiness is asserted to be contagious (Fowler and Christakis 2008) and it has been suggested that although educated people are happier, on average, than less educated ones, there is an even stronger benefit to living in a community of educated people with arts, culture and entertainment (Lawless and Lucas 2011). Thus, the tweets of other people can indicate what it’s like to live around them, influencing one’s own happiness.

Emily Badger is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard
, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area. All posts »
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Contact: Byron Spice / 412-268-9068 /
PITTSBURGH—It would be impossible to compute all of the ways a piece of cloth might shift, fold and drape over a moving human figure. But after six months of computation, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkeley, are pretty sure they've simulated almost every important configuration of that cloth.
"I believe our approach generates the most beautiful and realistic cloth of any real-time technique," said Adrien Treuille, associate professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon.
To create this cloth database, the team took advantage of the immense computing power available in the cloud, ultimately using 4,554 central processing unit (CPU) hours to generate 33 gigabytes of data.
Treuille said this presents a new paradigm for computer graphics, in which it will be possible to provide real-time simulation for virtually any complex phenomenon, whether it's a naturally flowing robe or a team of galloping horses.
Cloth Simulation
Doyub Kim, a former post-doctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon, will present the team's findings today at SIGGRAPH 2013, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, in Anaheim, Calif.
Real-time animations of complex phenomena for video games or other interactive media are challenging. A massive amount of computation is necessary to simulate the behavior of some elements, such as cloth, while good computer models simply don't exist for such things as body motion. Nevertheless, data-driven techniques have made complex animations possible on ordinary computers by pre-computing many possible configurations and motions.
"The criticism of data-driven techniques has always been that you can't pre-compute everything," Treuille said. "Well, that may have been true 10 years ago, but that's not the way the world is anymore."
Today, massive computing power can be accessed online at relatively low cost through services such as Amazon. Even if everything can't be pre-computed, the researchers set out to see just how much was possible by leveraging cloud computing resources.
In the simulations in this study, the researchers focused on secondary cloth effects — how clothing responds to both the human figure wearing the clothes, as well as to the dynamic state of the cloth itself.
Kim said to explore this highly complex system, the researchers developed an iterative technique that continuously samples the cloth motions, automatically detecting areas where data is lacking or where errors occur. For instance, in the study simulations, a human figure wore the cloth as a hooded robe; after some gyrations that caused the hood to fall down, the animation would show the hood popping back onto the figure's head for no apparent reason. The team's algorithm automatically identified such errors and explored the dynamics of the system until the error was eliminated.
Kim said with many video games now online, it would be possible to use such techniques to continually improve the animation of games. As play progresses and the animation encounters errors or unforeseen motions, it may be possible for a system to automatically explore those dynamics and make necessary additions or corrections.
Though the research yielded a massive database for the cloth effects, Kim said it was possible to use conventional techniques to compress the tens of gigabytes of raw data into tens of megabytes, a more manageable file size that nevertheless preserved the richness of the animation.
In addition to Treuille and Kim, the research team included CMU Assistant Professor of Computer Science Kayvon Fatahalian, and, from Berkeley, James F. O'Brien, professor of computer science and engineering, Woojong Koh, a Ph.D. student, and Rahul Narain, a post-doctoral researcher.
More information, and a video, are available on the project website, This research was supported by funding from the Intel Science and Technology Center for Visual Computing, the National Science Foundation, the UC Lab Fees Research Program, a Samsung Scholarship and gifts from Google, Qualcomm, Adobe, Pixar and the Okawa Foundation.
Follow the School of Computer Science on Twitter @SCSatCMU.
In the simulations in this study (pictured above), the researchers focused on secondary cloth effects — how clothing responds to both the human figure wearing the clothes, as well as to the dynamic state of the cloth itself.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Music (model number S6010) was launched at the end of last year running Android Ice Cream Sandwich, with the promise of a future update to Jelly Bean.
Now the update is ready, and it looks like it’s being rolled-out in the UK first. Bringing Android 4.1.2 to the handset, the update can be downloaded over the air, or via Samsung Kies.
At the moment, the Galaxy Music S6010 costs less than €150 unlocked. It’s a decent little smartphone for that money, featuring: dual stereo speakers on the front, Sound Alive & SRS technology, FM Antenna, 3 inch QVGA display, Wi-Fi, HSDPA connectivity, GPS, 3MP rear camera, 850 MHz processor (single core), 521MB of RAM, 4GB of internal memory, MicroSD card support, and a 1,300 mAh battery.

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Apple takes in more than twice the revenue of Microsoft and loses market shareApple earned twice the revenue of Microsoft last quarter but still lost over 10 percent of its market value.  What does that say about the differing expectations concerning Apple and Microsoft?  Mostly that investors expect more out of Apple and when they don’t get it they are quick to punish the company.
The Washington Post reports that Apple’s revenue for last quarter was $54.5 billion, up from $46.3 billion.  Microsoft announced that its revenues were $21.46 billion for the quarter up from last years $20.89 billion for the fourth quarter. $54.5 billion versus $21.46 billion. Hmmm.
Apparently investors were disappointed that Apple’s growth seems to be slowing even though Apple’s sales of the iPhone were an all time high of 47.8 million. Still Apple has lost 35 percent of its value since September dropping from a high of $705 per share to $450.5 as of the close of the stock market today. As The Register points out, there were some unique aspects to Apple’s earnings figures.
And that’s where things get interesting. As Apple’s CFO Peter Oppenheimer, who shared the call with Cook, pointed out, the quarter reported on Wednesday had 13 weeks; last year’s Q1 had 14 weeks. "As such," Oppenheimer said, "average weekly revenue was $4.2bn in the current-year quarter, compared to $3.3bn in the year-ago quarter." That’s a per-week revenue increase of 27.2 per cent.
Meanwhile Microsoft’s ending price on the stock market was $27.63 which was a gain of $.07 percent for the day. The Verge pointed out that Microsoft’s 2012 fourth quarter revenues increased just 2.7 percent over the same period last year.
But here is where the difference lies.  Investors see Apple growth as slowing and think that Apple’s potential for future growth has diminished.  Microsoft’s investors see potential increased growth because of the various different facets of Microsoft’s company.
Here’s the rub.  While Apple’s iPhone has sold well this year, there are parts of the world where the iPhone is too expensive for the market. Cheaper Android and even Windows Phone smart phones will sell in greater quantities.  For instance, reports that Apple is in fifth place when it comes to the smartphone market in China, in part, because most people can’t afford an iPhone.
PCs and Macs are taking a drubbing as consumers drift away from computers to tablets.  While the iPad still remains wildly popular, Microsoft tablets are just getting started and are expected to increase in market share.
Whether you agree with the prognosticators or not, you can’t argue with the disparity in revenue between the two companies.  Of course, that’s just last quarter.  We have whole new year of competition ahead of us.  Let’s see how they finish next December.
Posted in Microsoft | No Comments » Read more from Susan Wilson
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The ability to get Windows 8 on the cheap (in a legal and legitimate way) is ending soon. But is Microsoft doing the right thing in upping the price of its latest operating system?
Anyone choosing to upgrade to Windows 8 from XP, Vista, or Windows 7 has, until now, been able to do so on the cheap. By taking advantage of Microsoft’s admittedly generous early discounts, it’s been possible to justify switching to the latest operating system, even if you’re not convinced it’s worth the time and effort to do so.
However, things are changing, and soon.
The promotional pricing for Windows 8 that Microsoft chose to offer from launch is ending on Jan. 31, 2013. The offer has meant that anyone buying a new Windows 7 computer could upgrade to Windows 8 for just $15, and anyone with an older computer (XP or newer) could upgrade to Windows 8 for $40.
From next month the price of upgrading will increase to $120 for Windows 8 (Core) and $200 for Windows 8 Pro. This has caused a considerable amount of consternation among some people, who have complained that Microsoft is somehow ramping the price up to take advantage of consumers after the initial frenzy of interest has died down.
As pointed out by Paul Thurrott, this isn’t actually the case. The promotional price was always temporary and always going to end a few months after Windows 8 was launched into the wild. The new price is also the same price as Windows 7 was after its initial promotional period ended. In other words Microsoft is doing things completely by the book.
That isn’t the end of the story though. Maximum PC argues that Windows 8 is a different beast from Windows 7, and that the cut Microsoft gets from everything sold through the Windows Store means the initial asking price for the OS should be lower. There’s also the fact that Windows 8 isn’t doing anywhere near as well as Windows 7, which adds to the argument for pricing it accordingly.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness a u-turn from Microsoft on this one. The current promotion will lapse, but there’s nothing preventing them from instituting a brand new one.

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10 Mac OS X Mavericks features you'll absolutely loveOne of the more exciting and “why didn’t they do it like that before” type features in Mac OS X Mavericks is the new and enhanced multi-monitor mode ability.
For those who spend half their time on-the-go and the other half in the home office, a MacBook Pro with Retina display and Apple 27-inch cinema display is the perfect setup. The only problem is that the current way of using two screens totally killed the one great feature of Mountain Lion: Full screen mode.
When you through an app into full screen on your MacBook, the monitor would black out. What’s the point? Full screen gives us the screen real estate we desire, so let’s use it.
Last week, Apple introduced Mavericks, which updates how we use multi screens. Here’s a great demonstration of it in action:
As the video shows, it’s not perfect. We can no longer stretch apps throughout multiple screens. (Let’s be honest, though, if you have 6 massive monitors, do you really need to stretch apps?) And it appears his biggest gripe is that he can’t look at the “pretty wallpaper” throughout all six of his monitors. Talk about first world problems.
Another thing this video points out is that you can switch between the old and new mode, which is interesting, because the old mode is so bad.
Mac OS X Mavericks is coming this fall for $19.99 from the App Store. Some of its new features include  App Nap, enhanced Notification Center and Finder Tabs.
Posted in Apple, Mac, news, opinion | No Comments » Read more from Andrew Dodson
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