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24/7 Support? Not In France

Courtesy FoxBusiness,com

Checking-Email-BlackBerry-Smartphone

French workers already have a 35-hour work week, five vacation weeks a year, and now, some aren’t allowed to be contacted by their employer after 6:00pm.

A new deal has been agreed upon between tech industry workers and unions in France that no longer requires employees to answer work-related emails after 6 p.m., according to reports. The deal reportedly includes one million workers in digital and consultancy sectors in the country. Tech giants Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) have operations in France.

This deal means workers won’t be under any pressure to respond to their higher-ups post-clocking out, and they can’t be reprimanded in the highly-unionized country.

Pam Villarreal, U.S. labor expert at the National Center for Policy Analysis, calls the deals “absurd.”

“Within the tech industry and digital consultancy sectors, there’s always something going wrong off the clock—when a computer goes down, it doesn’t go down between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.” she says. “Even though workers overwhelmingly support this, it will be interesting to see how it pans out in terms of productivity—knowing people who work in the tech industry, it’s one of the most likely where something goes wrong after hours.”

She adds the deal could bring the unintended consequence of higher labor costs in the country’s industry. “They may have to shift workers to after 5 p.m. to deal with these issues, so it may drive up the cost of labor.”

French tech workers aren’t the only ones getting a reprieve from the stress of a never-ending workday, as a Swedish city is experimenting with a six-hour workday, in an effort to improve productivity andhappiness among workers.

France also famously shortened its workweek to 35 hours instead of the standard 40, in 2000.

“They are likely trying to reduce the unemployment rate, which is at 8%, and almost 24% for those under 25,” Villarreal says of Sweden. “But we don’t know if the experiment will work—people will be trying to cram 8 hours of work into a 6-hour day.”

Villarreal says Swedish companies may also turn to outsourcing if labor costs climb, explain that France’s labor costs increased as a result of its shortened work week.

Neither move is likely to hit the U.S. anytime soon, Villarreal says, especially the no contact after work agreement.

“Think of big tech corporations—they wouldn’t agree to not contacting their employees after 6,” she says. “Google and Facebook are [probably] not so welcoming of this change in France. If it happened here, companies would probably try to outsource to India or China, countries without such strict labor regulations.”


Build your own Siri

Courtesy KLINT FINLEY, Wired.com

siri

n the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark uses a voice-controlled computer assistant called J.A.R.V.I.S. It manages the lights and security system in his home, helps him pilot his Iron Man suits, and even assists with his research. Some of this is still very much in the realm of science fiction, but not all of it. Inspired by the Iron Man movies, two Princeton students have built a J.A.R.V.I.S. for the real world.

“That was even the initial project name — ‘J.A.R.V.I.S.’ — until we decided that it was too unoriginal,” says one of the project’s creators, Charles Marsh. Instead, they now call it Jasper.

It’s like Siri, but instead of running on your smartphone, it operates from a small, stand-alone unit with a microphone and an internet connection

No, Jasper isn’t as sophisticated as its science fictional inspiration. It’s more like Siri or Google Now, but instead of running on your smartphone, it operates from a small, stand-alone unit with a microphone and an internet connection. And it’s open source, meaning anyone can take the designs and build their own and modify it as need be.

Jasper acts as an “always on” system. When you say its name, it will respond with a beep indicating that’s it’s ready for instructions. So far, it can do things like tell you whether you have new Facebook notifications or Gmail messages, play songs from Spotify and, of course, tell you what the weather is like. It also offers a developer interface that lets outside programmers add new tools that can be triggered by additional keywords.

Marsh built the tool alongside a fellow Princeton student named Shubhro Saha. Most of the development happened over the summer, while Marsh was interning at Microsoft in Seattle and Saha at an online advertising outfit AppNexus in New York City. “Every night after work, we’d hold a Google Hangout to discuss design decisions, bugs, TODOs, and everything else we needed to get done,” Marsh remembers.

But like most open source projects, Jasper stands on the shoulders of existing open source code. Much of the voice recognition system, for example, is built on CMUSphinx, CMUCLTK and Phonetisaurus. “We saw Jasper as a great way to show developers what’s possible within the realm of open source,” he says. “We were amazed by how far we could get with these free, open solutions, and we wanted others to be similarly inspired.”

If you’re inspired, one option is to help the two expand the reach of Jasper. You can build your own with little more than a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, a speaker, and a microphone. Jasper’s source code has only been out for a day, but Marsh says they’ve already heard from several developers interested in building on top of it. “One individual mentioned that he was looking into powering his entire home with Jasper after wiring it with microphones,” he says. “Another asked us about automating vehicles in his factory with Jasper-powered voice control. Another even mentioned using Jasper in the classroom as a tool to teach kids about programming.”

For the time being, Marsh says, he and Saha have no plans to build a business around the tool. They simply wants others to join in. “When we were planning out the Jasper vision, what we really saw was a platform for hackers: its beauty lay in its extensibility,” he explains. “Nothing excited us more than to see what other programmers could do with the device.” Such is the beauty of open source.


Why AMD Dumped Oracle for Hadoop

Courtesy Jack Clark,theRegister.co.uk

01_Hadoop_full

High performance access to file storage

AMD has migrated terabytes of information from an Oracle Database installation to an Apache Hadoop stack, claiming Oracle’s pricey software was suffering from scaling issues.

The chip maker’s chief information officer, Jake Dominguez, revealed further details of the transfer in a chat with The Reg.

"Within the common Oracle platform we had we were struggling from a performance and reliability perspective," Dominguez told your correspondent in Atlanta just before the weekend. "One of the areas we were struggling with was in our test and assembly manufacturing – large, large datasets."

The migration of 276TB of data, which was completed last year, was prompted by "an environment outage that took weeks to recover," according to an internal document seen by El Reg. This encouraged AMD to replace Oracle for something else.

In the end, the processor giant settled on using Cloudera’s Hadoop distribution along additional open-source projects Apache Hive, ZooKeeper, HBase, HDFS, httpfs, LZO compression, MapReduce and others.

According to AMD, the Hadoop software has an unlimited row limit for query results compared to 100,000 rows on the chip giant’s Oracle setup, and "99 per cent of all queries execute in 15 minutes or less, with a median execution time of just 23 seconds."

What makes this shift so significant is that Oracle wants you to think AMD is the sort of company that will always use Oracle kit.

Oracle is grappling with a shift in the data warehouse and analytics market: its core business is being squeezed by free and open-source on-premises software, and its cloud wing is facing off with Amazon Web Services and the like.

Many organizations have sought to extricate themselves from Oracle’s grip, either by swapping out Oracle-owned open-source tech for other software, as Google did with a vast MySQL to MariaDB migration, or by shifting away from the company’s proprietary databases to open-source ones, as the UK’s National Health Service did with a major Riak migration.

One of the main open-source technologies commonly being deployed to supplement or replace Oracle is Hadoop, a data storage and processing framework that was first developed at Yahoo! in 2005 by engineers attempting to replicate some advanced technologies invented at Google.

Today, software like Hadoop, and other distributed data storage and management frameworks like Cassandra and Riak, are competing with software from IBM, SAP, and most prominently Oracle.

For AMD, a sophisticated multinational manufacturing company, to launch a major Oracle migration project is representative of a broader shift in IT which benefits low-cost or free software at the expense of incumbents like Oracle.

"We made the pivot to Hadoop [and] it not only increased our reliability but [improved] our response time," Dominguez told us. "It’s going to be an integral part of our enterprise data warehouse concept." ®


When “Big Data” is Too Much Data

Courtesy David M. Denton, Commentary, InformationWeek.com

(Source: Flickr user jfcherry)

Technology isn’t enough to improve healthcare. Doctors must be able to distinguish between valuable data and information overload.

As a doctor, I know the value of information, but I also know what’s worse than not enough information: misinformation or too much information. In this information age, we seem to have plenty of both.

No matter what you think or believe, you can find proof of it on the Internet. You can also find a million and one ways to decorate your living room, making it overwhelmingly impossible to decide which ideas to use. The Internet is great at quenching our attention deficits by providing novelty at every click. Indeed, we can spend hours reading, watching, listening, or commenting without accomplishing anything at all. On the other hand, we get access to excellent resources and minds, beyond what was possible in a non-connected world.

Modern medicine also struggles with managing information. In our lust for data, we have created systems that store every keystroke, scan, or import, in a limitless cloud. Discrimination is no longer necessary. The pertinent and the frivolous are stored side by side. We no longer have data; we have “big data.” This allows the detection of trends and patterns that could never be identified with our smaller data sets. We are just beginning to understand its power.

Interestingly, however, while computers are great at sorting through data quickly and efficiently, humans aren’t. In fact, “more,” often clogs our ability to discern and decide. Additionally, computers can’t distinguish good data from bad data. At present, humans are still required to use the data to make decisions and care for patients. Until we have computers that can form therapeutic alliances, be compassionate, diagnose conditions, and provide and coordinate reasonable treatments, we are still dependent on fallible biologic beings to provide our medical care.

One of the hopes of electronic health records (EHRs) is that they will revolutionize medicine by collecting information that can be used to improve how we provide care. Getting good data from EHRs can occur if good data is input. This doesn’t always happen. To see patients; document encounters; enter smoking status; create coded problems lists; update medication lists; e-prescribe medications; order tests; find, open, and review multiple prior notes; schedule follow-up appointments; search for SNOWMED codes, search for ICD-9 codes, and find CPT codes to bill encounters (tasks previously delegated to a number of people); and compassionately interact with patients, providers have to take shortcuts.

Read More…http://www.informationweek.com/healthcare/electronic-health-records/doctors-are-drowning-in-data/d/d-id/1141595?f_src=informationweek_editorspicks_rss&google_editors_picks=true


What’s Strong as Steel and Lighter than Water?

Courtesy Lucas Mearian, ComputerWorld.com

Nanostructures

An example of the nanostructures created with 3D laser lithography (Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

Computerworld – A team of German scientists used 3D laser lithography to print microscopic trusses and shells that are as strong as steel — and lighter than water.

The objective of the research is to someday create materials stronger than anything yet produced, yet lightweight enough for use in products such as aircraft or armor.

The honeycomb-like structures, made of ceramic-polymer composite material, are only about 50 nanometers thick. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.

To give you an idea of how small the microarchitectures are, consider that a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter and a human hair is about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.

The German team recently published a paper on their research.

The "polymer composites … exceed the strength-to-weight ratio of all engineering materials, with a density below 1,000 kilograms per meter (kg/m)," said Jens Bauer, a materials scientist leading the research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, in the paper.

Nanoscribe

The Nanoscribe Photonic 3D Professional printer from Nanoscribe GmbH, is a table-top laser lithography system used for creating three-dimensional photonic structures (Source: Nanoscribe)

The scientists took their inspiration from nature, which has produced materials far stronger, yet less dense than those created in a lab. For example, natural cellular materials such as bone and wood are strong and yet have considerably lower densities than aluminum alloys, Bauer stated.

The team used a 3D printer from Nanoscribe GmbH to create the nanostructures they hope can someday enable the creation of super-strong materials.

"Applying 3D laser lithography, which allows for producing almost arbitrary structures with sub-micron resolving power, micro-truss and -shell structures may be manufactured," he stated in a recently published paper. "Ratios comparable to those of advanced metallic alloys or technical ceramics have been obtained."

The nanostructures are created by placing a small amount of photocurable resin on a glass slide. Then a stereolithography 3D printer projects a laser in a grid-like pattern on the liquid material, hardening it where the light strikes. The resulting hardened structure is then coated with alumina, or aluminium oxide.

Nanoscribe’s stereolithography 3D printers are unable to as yet create structures larger than micrometers in size.


Kinect for Windows version 2 hardware

Courtesy Mary Jo Foley, zdnet.com

kinectforwindowsv2sensor

Microsoft is inching closer toward releasing the second version of its Kinect for Windows sensor.

On March 27, the company posted images of the new Kinect for Windows v2 sensor itself, as well as the hub and power supply for the device.

The second-generation Kinect for Windows sensor looks a lot like the Kinect for Xbox One, except that it says "Kinect" on the top panel, and the Xbox stylized green "x" is a "simple, more understated power indicator," according to a new blog post. The image of the new Kinect for Windows sensor is embedded in this post above.

The new Kinect for Windows hub and power supply are pictured below. The hub, the top image, accepts three connections: The sensor, USB 3.0 output to PC and power. The power supply, which supports voltages from 100 to 240 volts, is the bottom image.

kinectforwindowshubpower

Microsoft launched its closed Kinect for Windows v2 developer program last summer. Developers received an alpha version of the sensor hardware, along with early access to the software development kit, and a promise of a final version of the Kinect for Windows v2 hardware at no additional cost.

At that time, company officials said the second generation Kinect for Windows product would be available by summer 2014.

Preview participants are experimenting on a range of business and consumer applications that might make use of the updated Kinect. Here’s what some Razorfish developers built as a proof-of-concept with the preview hardware and software.

Microsoft released the first-generation Kinect for Windows product in early 2012.


Facebook Buys Oculus VR for $2 Billion

Courtesy Brad Stone, BusinessWeek.com

I recently wrote about Oculus, which is developing the Rift virtual reality system for PCs. It’s racing against Sony (SNE), which also has its own prototype VR technology, called Project Morpheus, for the PlayStation 4. The Rift, which looks like a thick pair of darkened goggles, lets gamers immerse themselves in a rich, computer-generated 3D world. It’s not yet for sale in stores, but the company just unveiled a kit for developers, which sells for $350. The startup, based in Irvine, Calif., was founded by the excellently named 21-year-old Palmer Lucky. It has one of the most famous game developers in the world as its chief technology officer—John Carmack, the maker of iconic shoot-’em-ups Doom and Quake.

So imagine chatting with your Facebook friends not just via instant messages or VoIP calls, but by settling into a virtual café with them for an imaginary cup of coffee. Or visiting a doctor halfway across the world and explaining your symptoms in a virtual examination room. Remember Second Life? Like that, but with electronic headwear.

For now, the Rift is aimed at gamers. But Zuckerberg seems to be paying more attention to the Rift’s other potential uses. He writes:

After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Facebook stock dropped slightly in after-hours trading on the announcement. It recently announced an acquisition of text-messaging company WhatsApp for $16 billion.

Oculus raised $91 million from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz. Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture capital firm, said he didn’t quite believe in the Rift until he visited the company’s headquarters and tried it on for the first time. He says he was instantly sold and compared previous attempts at VR to the ill-fated Apple Newton in the 1990s: “People in tech knew we would have handheld computers. The only question was when.” In VR, he added, “The reality is that the technology—like screens, sensors, and software—hasn’t been good enough until now.” (Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg Businessweek, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.)

Dixon’s bet, and now Facebook’s, is that the Rift is the iPhone for virtual reality. And the acquisition gives Facebook a way to combat Google (GOOG), Amazon(AMZN), and others in the hardware business.

It should be noted, though, that while the Rift can unlock new kinds of online social experiences, it also isolates its users in the boring ol’ real world. (I played a few games on a prototype and posted a video of my experience.) While you can presumably interact with other people’s avatars, the Rift also blots out absolutely everything around you—like any friends who might be sitting in the same room. There’s nothing social about that.