Recent Articles By John Martellaro [RSS]

TMO Background Mode Encore #6 Interview with Science Communicator Dr. Kiki Sanford

· · Background Mode Podcast

Dr. Kiki Sanford on Background Mode

Dr. Kiki Sanford makes her sixth appearance on Background Mode. Kiki is a neurophysiologist with a B.S. in conservation biology and a Ph.D. avian neurophysiology from the University of California. She’s a popular science communicator and creator of This Week in Science (TWIS) podcast and radio show.

In this episode, we chat about the science of rising sea levels, neural networks and vocoder technology trained to recognize brain patterns related to listening to human speech, how learning two human languages in childhood positively affects the brain, rebooting the human immune system, whether intelligence is sexy, and the colonization of Mars and whether it will be commercially exploited or preserved by all nations like the Earth’s Antarctic. Dr. Kiki is always a delight to listen to and learn from.

These AI-Created People Don't Exist

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AI generated face

Digital Trends writes: “While it’s been clear for quite some time that modern A.I. is getting pretty darn good at generating accurate human faces, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come…”  The face shown here is just one of many created by an AI, explained in the article. “The results … well, you can see them for yourself by checking out the website. Hitting refresh will iterate an entirely new face.”

Soon there will be artificial people on the internet writing AI created articles. (I am actually one of them.)

Do You Cover Your Webcam Lens With a Sticky Note?

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There is a certain practice, born, perhaps, of obsolete data and just plain paranoia. People place a sticky note over their Mac’s webcam when not in use. Is this a valid, efficacious practice? There are even commercial products that have a nicer look to them. John Gruber digs into the practice and the technology both old and new. There’s a lot to learn in this column by John. Check it out.

What's the Difference Between QLED and OLED TVs?

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Samsung QLED 4K TV wall mounted

In the process of writing about Samsung’s 2019 TVs, sizes and prices, CNET’s David Katzmaier also explains the difference between Samsung’s QLED TVs and the OLED technology from other makers. It’s an important distinction. The key is the ever so geeky Quantum Dots. (Image credit: Samsung.)

How Far Would You Go to Protect a Robot?

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I, Robot (the movie)

From boingboing: “‘Under what circumstances and to what extent would adults be willing to sacrifice robots to save human lives?’ That was the question posed by researchers at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich.” The results have implications for how we’ll design robots with apparent human feelings.

TMO Background Mode Interview with Princeton Theoretical Physicist Dr. Paul Steinhardt

· · Background Mode Podcast

Dr. Paul Steinhardt on Background Mode

Paul Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, where he is on the faculty of both the departments of Physics and of Astrophysical Sciences. He co-founded the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science and is currently the Director of that prestigious research institution.

He has a Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard, and his research interests include cosmology, inflation theory, dark matter and specialized solids, including QuasiCrystals.

We chatted about the early influences of his father and, later, Dr. Richard Feynman when he was an undergraduate at Caltech. Then we chatted about cosmic inflation, the Multiverse, Dark Matter, and finally QuasiCrystals, the subject of his latest book. Dr. Steinhardt is a preeminent physicist working at the limits of human knowledge. Come listen and enjoy.

Backblaze: The Least Reliable Hard Drives

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Cult of Mac writes about the experience Backblaze has had with its many thousands of hard drives. “Statistics on hard drive reliability just released by data-storage company Backblaze would seem to indicate it’s not a good idea to buy a Seagate hard drive. Of the 104,954 drives it uses, Seagate’s are the least reliable by a wide margin.” But there was one brand that was much more reliable.

Safari Development: A New Way to Fight Intrusive Browser Ads

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ZDNet writes: “Engineers working on the WebKit engine, the core of the Safari browser, are looking at putting a limit on the amount of JavaScript a website can load, as a novel and unique approach to fighting websites that load too many or too intrusive ads.” It’s nice to see the more active role WebKit engineers are taking to limit the bad behavior of some websites. However, “…this isn’t a feature users can test right now. Weeks, or even months, of development are still needed.”

Why Don't Airlines Board Us Most Efficiently? Money

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Jet airliner at gate.

There are some very slow and inefficient ways to board passengers onto an airliner. Most airlines use some variation of them. But there are also some mathematically proven efficient, optimum ways. Why don’t the airlines use those? Money. This video analysis uses great graphics and demonstrates the problem.

The Ultimate Synergy: AI Might Finally Crack Nuclear Fusion

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Planet Earth

There is continuing, serious dread about the prospects of advanced artificial/augmented intelligence and the grave threat of climate change both threatening human life. But what if an unexpected synergy intervenes? What if AI techniques can be used to solve the very difficult problem of controlled nuclear fusion and provide abundant power? What if that meant we could abandon fossil fuels just in time to save the planet? The Verge investigates.

TMO Background Mode Interview with Science Writer & Skeptic Dr. Michael Shermer

· · Background Mode Podcast

Michael Shermer on Background Mode

Michael is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic Magazine, a former monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101.

He is also a noted science writer and the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, and The Science of Good and Evil. His newest book is: Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality & Utopia.

We chatted about Michael’s early religious views, interest in psychology, his doctoral work, and his path to becoming a professional skeptic. He explained the logical traps people fall into (motivated reasoning) as we turned to climate change, human fantasies about ghosts and psychics, the founding of Skeptic Magazine and the influence of Dr. Carl Sagan. Really good stuff here.

3 Things Apple Does That Keep Annoying Us

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Apple store logo

Dan Moren at Macworld reminds us that there are some Apple practices that continue to greatly annoy customers. In this case it’s all about revenue, and the argument is that Apple could please us greatly for not much loss of income. But at least we have a choice: buy or not buy.

How About a 49-inch Display? Not for TV. For Your Mac

· · Cool Stuff Found

The Verge has the review of the 49-inch Dell UltraSharp U4919DW monitor and loves it. “Extravagant, ridiculous, amazing…”

There are plenty of ultrawide monitors available, but Dell’s UltraSharp U4919DW stands out because it’s the first 49-inch ultrawide monitor with a QHD resolution. It’s extremely wide, has a pixel count that tops out at 5120 x 1440, costs $1,699 but can be found for $1,349 on sale …

It does have some limitations, however, so be sure to read the review carefully. But seriously. For that price? Very cool. (Image credit: Dell.)

How About a 49-inch Display? Not for TV. For Your Mac

How IoT Devices Can Bite You Even From the Trashcan

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Smart Bulb

TechCrunch writes: “But it’s not just while they’re plugged in that these slapdash [IoT] gadgets are a security risk — even from the garbage can, they can still compromise your network.” Scavengers taking a discarded one apart can discover all kinds of secrets about your network. OMG. Trash talk. (Image credit: TechCrunch.)