The Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) is a venerable and-well regarded volunteer-run, regional Linux conference that draws over 2000 attendees and an amazing array of speakers and open source projects displaying their goodies in the exposition area. The tutorial and speech schedule is crazy-dense, with as many as 10 tracks going at once. Conference Chair Ilan Rabinovitch admits that there is no way you can take in all of SCALE. On the other hand, you are certain to find something new and interesting to learn if you have any interest at all in Open Source. And yes, we mean Open Source, not just Linux. This show has grown far beyond its humble roots as a get-together for a few local students interested in Linux. One last thing: When you register, if you use the promo code SLASH, the $70 pass for all three days is magically reduced to $35. And there are many other ways to get that discount or another one just like it, including affiliation with virtually any Southern California Open Source group or almost any Open Source project. SCALE is 100% non-profit, and wants to "spread the word," not make money.
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Ben Kamens spent over 5 years at Fog Creek, eventually working his way up to VP of engineering. However, after watching one of Salman Khan's talks he started to volunteer his time at Khan Academy, and is now the lead developer. In-between providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere, he's graciously agreed to answer some of your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco and current lieutenant governor of California, argues in his new book Citizenville that citizens need to take the lead in solving society's problems, sidestepping government bureaucracy with a variety of technological tools. It's more efficient for those engineers and concerned citizens to take open government data and use it to build apps that serve a civic function—such as Google Earth, or a map that displays crime statistics—than for government to try and provide these tools itself. But Newsom doesn't limit his attacks on government bureaucracy to politicians; he also reserves some fire for the IT departments, which he views as an outdated relic. 'The traditional IT department, which set up and maintained complex, centralized services—networks, servers, computers, e-mail, printers—may be on its way out,' he writes. 'As we move toward the cloud and technology gets easier to use, we'll have less need for full-time teams of people to maintain our stuff.' Despite his advocacy of the cloud and collaboration, he's also ambivalent about Wikileaks. 'It has made government and diplomacy much more challenging and ultimately less honest,' he writes at one point, 'as people fear that their private communications might become public.' Nonetheless, he thinks WikiLeaks and its ilk are ultimately here to stay: 'It is happening, and it's going to keep happening, and it's going to intensify.' In the end, he feels the benefits of collaboration and openness outweigh the drawbacks." Keep reading for the rest of Nick's review.
Jon Brodkin writes "I’ve been a longtime fan of Brain Age. Mixed in among the standard-issue kill-everything-you-see/race/sports types of games that dominate gaming, Brain Age on the Nintendo DS always provided something unique, fun, and mentally stimulating. Doing math problems, counting syllables, recognizing patterns, and memorizing stuff was far more enjoyable than anyone would have expected in Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, the game that kicked off the series seven years ago. Based on the research of neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima, the exercises are designed to improve brain function—or at least give players the illusion that they’re getting smarter. Nintendo developed several sequels and spinoffs for the DS after that first game, and now a Nintendo 3DS-exclusive entry is here with Brain Age: Concentration Training, released as a download and physical media this past weekend for $30. Some improvements in gameplay are readily apparent. Handwriting recognition is significantly better. You play the game by holding the 3DS upright, rather than sideways like a book, and it works so well I wonder why previous Brain Age games used the wacky book-like layout at all." Read below to see what Jon thinks of the 3DS-exclusive version.
One of the more interesting conversations Tim Lord had at CES this year was with Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon, who was showing off the Ubuntu Phone that is supposed to be released later this year. According to the Ubuntu website, it "delivers a magical phone that is faster to run, faster to use and fits perfectly into the Ubuntu family." Big words, but if Ubuntu parent Canonical can live up to them, the mobile phone market may soon have an interesting new operating system competitor to shake things up.
Simon Phipps is President of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) at least until March 31, 2013. He is one of 11 Directors, with Legal Counsel Mark Radcliffe and OSI President Emeritus Eric Raymond serving as advisers. The main function of the OSI is to safeguard The Open Source Definition and to make sure that all software licenses it approves adhere to it. Over the years, license approvals have become contentious more than once. Lately, however, the OSI has avoided acceptance of new licenses that substantially duplicate existing ones, so a lot of the license approval furor has died down. Several recent improvements in the OSI include opening the organization to individual memberships, and setting up the FLOSS Competence Center Network, both of which will no doubt help the OSI carry out and expand its primary mission: "Open Source community-building, education, and public advocacy to promote awareness and the importance of non-proprietary software."
With his trademark hat and beard, Dr. Robert Bakker is one of the most recognized paleontologists working today. Bakker was among the advisers for the movie Jurassic Park, and the character Dr. Robert Burke in the film The Lost World: Jurassic Park is based on him. He was one of the first to put forth the idea that some dinosaurs had feathers and were warm-blooded, and is credited with initiating the ongoing "dinosaur renaissance" in paleontology. Bakker is currently the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Director of the Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado. He is also a Christian minister, who contends that there is no real conflict between religion and science, citing the writings and views of Saint Augustine as a guide on melding the two. Dr. Bakker has agreed to take some time from his writing and digging in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
CES is not a political show, so it only drew one visible protester: Kelly Chong, who is mad at camera manufacturers for (he says) destroying his camera repair business. He managed to get mentioned in Forbes, in an article headlined CES: One Man's Protest Against The World's Camera Makers. And now he's getting three minutes and five seconds of fame on Slashdot. Is his protest justified? According to a 2012 article headlined How Nikon Is Killing Camera Repair, at least one major camera manufacturer now refuses to sell parts to independent repair shops. So Kelly Chong seems to have a legitimate beef. Will anyone listen to him? Will major, multinational camera manufacturers start selling parts to independent repair people again? And what about those of us who do (at least some of) our own repairs? Labor charges aside, it's often lots faster and easier to do a simple repair yourself than to box your camera up and send it somewhere, not to mention the waiting time for it to get back to you.
Reducing various items to a fine powder in one of his blenders earned Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson a cult following. One of, if not the greatest viral marketing campaigns of all time, the "Will It Blend?" series has been watched almost 221,000,000 times on YouTube. In addition to receiving many marketing awards, Tom and his blenders have been featured on The Tonight Show and the History Channel series Modern Marvels. He has agreed to take a break from pureeing household objects and answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
Shane Chen is an inventor who likes to make all kinds of things. For instance, he designed the frame and invented a special reflective surface for the screen you see in the background of the video below. But many of his inventions have to do with transportation, especially the kind of transportation that doubles as personal thrill ride, like a sail for paddleboats and an electric surfboard. At this year's CES, I spoke with Chen's daughter Ywanne about his latest rideable invention, which is for obvious reasons called the Solowheel. Her father's the one you can see demonstrating the device in the background; you can see trickier riding in this YouTube video. She says that of all her father's inventions, this is the one that came together most easily: his first stab at a powered unicycle just worked, and since then it's been polishing the experience and getting it to market. And "to market" isn't a dream; for about $1800, you can have an experience that's a bit more intense than a Segway. The Solowheel can climb hills of surprising steepness, as long as the rider is up for it. Coming down looks more challenging, though.
Better known by his stage name "The Amazing Randi", James Randi has made it his quest to "debunk psychic nonsense, disprove paranormal fakers, and squash claims of pseudoscience in order to bring the truth to the forefront." Randi worked as a popular magician most of his life and earned international fame in 1972 when he accused the famous psychic Uri Geller of being a fraud and challenged him to prove otherwise. In 1996 Randi founded The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) a non-profit organization whose mission includes "educating the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unproven claims, and to support research into paranormal claims in controlled scientific experimental conditions." He began offering $1000 in 1964 to anyone who could demonstrate proof of the paranormal. That amount has grown over the years, and the foundation's prize for such proof is now $1M. Around 1000 people have tried to claim the prize so far without success. Randi has agreed to take a break from busting ghostbusters and giving psychic healers a taste of their own medicine in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
Jakob Perry, today's interviewee, is a volunteer who helps make LinuxFest Northwest happen. This is an event produced by the Bellingham Linux Users Group that "has been a tradition in Bellingham, WA since 2000." Bellingham is a small town about a 1.5 hour drive away from Seattle, and a shorter distance from Vancouver, Canada. Last year they had 1200 people. They have a core group of about 10 year-round volunteers, with as many as 60 participating in the event itself, many of whom are students at Bellingham Technical College, which is where LinuxFest Northwest is held.
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes "With the announcement of Verizon's "six strikes plan" for movie pirates (which includes reporting users to the RIAA and MPAA), and content companies continuing to sue users en masse for peer-to-peer downloads, I think it's inevitable that we'll see the rise of p2p software that proxifies your downloads through other users. In this model, you would not only download content from other users, but you also use other users' machines as anonymizing proxies for the downloads, which would make it impossible for third parties to identify the source or destination of the file transfer. This would hopefully put an end to the era of movie studios subpoenaing ISPs for the identities of end users and taking those users to court." Read below for the rest of Bennett's thoughts.
The recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates, and honors from three U.S. presidents, Ray Kurzweil's accolades are almost too many to list. A prolific inventor, Kurzweil created the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. His book, The Singularity Is Near, was a New York Times best seller. and is considered one of the best books about futurism and transhumanism ever written. Mr. Kurzweil was hired by Google in December as Director of Engineering to "work on new projects involving machine learning and language processing." He has agreed to take a short break from creating and predicting the future in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
Timothy Lord starts this video with these words: "Sensors are a big deal at CES this year. They are small devices that track everything from the location of your pets to how many steps you have taken today." And so he chatted with Phillip Bolliger, founder of Swiss company Koubachi AG, which makes Wi-Fi sensors that help you give your plants the right amount of water and light and to keep them at the right temperature. As of this writing, the prices on their online store are in Euros, not dollars, but the sensors are now available through Amazon with U.S. pricing. Koubachi also has a free app for your iOS device, and a Facebook app for your computer or Android device, that will help you give your plants the right amount of fertilizer and other love even if you don't buy a Koubachi sensor.