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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Public officials from around the country have formed a partnership to lobby smartphone firms to introduce anti-theft measures. They’ve kicked off with a summit of the major companies.
The partnership, dubbed the “Secure Our Smartphones Iniative”, brings together the attorneys general of seven states, city prosecutors, police chiefs, local political officials and safety and consumer groups.
The group cites a statistic that 113 cellphones are lost or stolen in the US every minute, with a high proportion involving violent theft. It also says that 1.6 million people were hit by robberies or attempted robberies from criminals demanding they hand over their smartphones.
San Francisco district attorney George Gascon says it’s a simple issue: “The cell phone industry cannot ignore that smartphone theft is a crime that can be fixed with a technological solution.”
Though that might be something of an overstatement, the officials are convinced smartphone theft would drop dramatically if crime victims could take action to stop a thief using the phone or resetting it so it could be sold on. They’ve repeatedly called for some sort of killswitch feature, though gave a cautious welcome to a planned Apple feature that will make resetting a phone impossible without a password.
The group says that as well as working to encourage manufacturers to introduce a kill switch and other measures, it will explore the economics behind the issue from the perspective of the manufacturer and cellphone carriers. Some critics have suggested manufacturers have little interest in reducing theft because somebody who has a phone stolen will need to buy a new one, boosting sales. Security firm Lookout estimated the total costs to US consumers replacing lost or stolen phones could hit $30 billion a year.
Representatives of Apple, Microsoft, Motorola (owned by Google) and Samsung are today meeting at the officer of New York state attorney general Eric Schneidermen, who co-chairs the group with Gascon.
Posted in smartphone | 1 Comment » Read more from John Lister
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Apple is extending a beta program for its next-generation Mac OS X Mavericks to retail employees, creating what appears to be a tradition for new operating systems.
Retail staff employees received an invite from Apple today, reports 9to5 Mac. Apple offered a similar program last year for the release of Mac OS X Mountain Lion. The memo reads:
You are invited to participate in the pre-release OS X Mavericks seed program. Participation, including submitting feedback, is completely voluntary and not an expectation of your job. If you accept, we will provide you with a pre-release version of OS X Mavericks to install and use. You will get to preview all of the exciting new features like iBooks, Maps, Calendar, Safari, iCloud Keychain, Multiple Displays, Notifications, Finder Tabs, Tags, and much more! You should use OS X Mavericks only your personal computer and on your personal time. Apple will provide you with ways to submit feedback on your experiences with OS X Mavericks, should you choose to do so. Apple also asks that you use future builds of OS X Mavericks as they are made available. The responses from prior seed programs have been overwhelmingly positive. Thank you to everyone who participated!
The program, as stated in the invite, is designed to work out the early bugs of the new operating system, which is expected to be released this fall for $19.99 via the Mac App Store.
Of course, that’s not the only way to take advantage of Mac OS X Mavericks. You could also sign up for Apple’s developer’s program, but that’s going to cost you $99-$500. And it’s pretty worthless if you don’t know how to code.
This does raise an interesting questions, from the developer’s point of view: Should the public — even Apple retail employees — get access to the operating system?
Blorge will take a stand here and say: Absolutely. It’s a huge advantage to have testers, especially testers who have a passion for Apple products. They know what makes Apple products so great and how to use them to their fullest potential. Consumers will also be happy when the version comes out more bug-free.
So far, reactions have been positive. One MacRumors forum poster, who appears to be a developer, writes, “Mavericks is very smooth for an initial beta.”
I think it’s a safe bet to say Mavericks could be the best yet.

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The cartoon characters so loved by young and old audiences alike are becoming increasingly lifelike. In order for them to look realistic, animators invest a lot of time in making a fat belly wobble as naturally as possible while walking, for instance. A project by ETH Zurich and Disney Research should make life easier for the filmmakers in future. Thanks to a new computer software, Professor Peanuts totters and wobbles while walking. (Picture: Fabian Hahn, ETH Zurich) (large view) ETH Zurich doctoral student Fabian Hahn shows how Professor Peanuts, a cartoon elephant, totters across the screen. The animal looks stiff and not particularly lifelike. “In real life, the trunk and ears would also sway and the fat belly wobble along,” stresses Hahn. If animators move a virtual character, they have to mind which body parts would move along indirectly in real life by observing reality closely and transferring it to the virtual realm. Such indirect movements include for instance the wobble of a belly or the bulging of a muscle during an arm movement. Until now, filmmakers have had the choice of either painstakingly creating these additional movements by hand or relinquishing the control: There are already computer programmes that add such effects to an existing animation. However, the automation makes subsequent changes tricky. In the course of his doctoral thesis under Markus Gross, professor of visual computing, Hahn teamed up with Bob Sumner of Disney Research to develop a new software programme that makes life easier for the artists by proposing additional movements, which the artists can easily adapt afterwards. Existing programmes that automatically add effects like the wobbling of a stomach do not use the typical animator’s toolbox, the so-called rig space – the sum of the levers the artists use to move for instance the character’s whole stomach, which consists of many individual dots. Instead, these programmes calculate the movement for every individual point instead of the levers, which makes subsequent improvements difficult. In order to adjust the animation, the artist has to painstakingly shift every single dot – for twenty-four frames per second of film! Unlike previous software, however, Hahn’s programme uses the levers in the rig space to mimic physical effects and make the wobbling look as realistic as possible (video). As the programme uses the levers, the artists can easily make changes at a later stage using the rig space levers as usual to move entire body parts instead of shifting individual dots. Last year, Hahn published a prototype of the programme that still took a long time to test the movement of all levers until a physical effect was simulated optimally. Now he is showcasing a new version of programme at the SCA, one of the most important conferences in the world for computer animation. The new programme calculates how it has to move the levers correctly much more quickly. To achieve this, Hahn incorporated the option of anticipating the movements for the next images in the animation sequences into the software. Consequently, the programme no longer tests all the degrees of freedom of all levers for each of the twenty-four frames per second. Instead, it assumes that the movements calculated for one frame – ascertained by automatically trying out all levers in all degrees of freedom – are also suitable for the next couple of frames. At the same time, it calculates how far the estimation strays from reality. If the anticipation deviates too much, the programme tests all the degrees of freedom of the levers again. Using this technique, the programme conjures up images on the screen much more quickly that are as close to reality as ever before. Thus Professor Peanuts wobbles and totters across the screen, a movement the programme now only needs minutes, not hours, to calculate. Another advantage is that the software also prevents volume from being lost on the animated characters, as Hahn explains, pointing to the ring of fat belonging to a sumo wrestler that grows noticeably flatter in the “hand-animated” movement (video). His programme, on the other hand, ensures that it bulges while moving and the mass remains intact. Although there are no official plans to use the software as yet, Hahn hopes that his programme developed in collaboration with Disney Research will be used in animated films in the near future. Perhaps a pot-bellied Professor Peanuts will be wobbling across the big screen in the next few years – with an air of ETH Zurich. F. Hahn, S. Martin, B. Thomaszewski, R. Sumner, S. Coros, M. Gross. Rig-Space Physics; Proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH (Los Angeles, USA, August 5-9, 2012), ACM Transactions on Graphics, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 72:1-72:8
F. Hahn, B. Thomaszewski, S. Coros, S. Martin, R. Sumner, M. Gross. Efficient simulation of secondary motion in rig-space; Proceedings of the 2013 ACM SIGGRAPH/Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation (Anaheim, USA, July 19-21, 2013)

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 Spinlister will let you rent bikes from friendly strangers
There’s no better way to see a city — or the countryside — than on a bicycle. It’s the reason bike rental services exist in so many big cities. There’s just one problem: most rental bikes suck. Well, there are two problems, actually: It’s also pretty hard to find a bike rental place outside of a big city. Which explains why Spinlister, a service that lets people rent out their personal bikes to (hopefully) friendly strangers, is so exciting for weekend getaways.
Essentially, it’s like an AirBnB for bikes. You enter the city or zip code where you need a rental, and it kicks back a big old list of two-wheeled wonders. Well, a big old list in some places, at least. There were all sorts of rides in San Francisco and Portland, a handful in Austin and Cincinnati, and one lonely bicycle in Birmingham, Alabama.
But, for a new service, the offerings are surprisingly robust. (We weren’t really expecting to see any in Birmingham, to be honest.) And while these aren’t demo-quality bikes, they do tend to be much nicer than the rustbuckets you’ll pick up from most bike rental shops. And some are just completely awesome. Ride on!
Mat Honan
Mat Honan is a senior writer for Wired's Gadget Lab and the co-founder of the Knight-Batten award-winning Longshot magazine.
Read more by Mat Honan
Follow @mat on Twitter.

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