Start up: virtual reality gets real, our AI friends, Oracle’s junk bundle, Google’s Wiki love, games with molten lead, and more

A selection of 8 links for you. Do not try the first at home. Or anywhere. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dr. Jearl Walker sticks his hand into molten lead » YouTube

Yes. Honestly. He’s demonstrating the Leidenfrost effect. DO NOT TRY THIS.

The dangerous stuff happens at about 4 minutes in when he does it the first time. Then he keeps on doing it.

If you want to read about the Leidenfrost effect, Walker explains it in full (PDF).


Forget Oculus Rift, the incredible HTC Vive experience will blow your mind (hands-on) » Pocket-lint

Chris Hall tried it, and he’s sold:

HTC Vive has been born out of HTC’s partnership with Valve. Announced at Mobile World Congress, HTC Vive and Steam VR is taking virtual reality from a static seated or standing experience where you wiggle your head, to one that plays out like Star Trek’s Holodeck, or virtual worlds imagined in The Matrix or Tron.

The lasers mounted on the walls transect the whole space. The Vive headset and controllers are covered with detection points, so they know exactly where they are within that space. That sort of 3D motion mapping isn’t a new technology – it’s similar to how Hollywood captures movement that then underpins CGI models in blockbuster movies.

But here it’s used to let you roam in Vive’s Full Room Scale virtual reality, meaning you have more freedoms than before. You can sit, stand, kneel, walk, jump, duck, dive, bob, weave, punch, skip, spin and probably stand on your head, and Vive knows what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.

Moore’s Law means VR is rapidly hitting the point where it’s going to work fantastically well. Games are the obvious first use; but selling travel experiences seems like a promising one too. Could VR be the saviour of the high street travel agent?

Promising for HTC as well if it can get this right.


Google, Wal-Mart part ways over local shopping ads » WSJ

Alistair Barr and Rolfe Winkler:

The relationship between Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, and Wal-Mart Stores, the biggest retailer, has frayed over the data used to lure shoppers into stores.

Last summer, Wal-Mart signed up for a Google advertising service that shows shoppers where specific products are available at nearby stores. Less than a month later, the retailer pulled out over concerns about sharing store inventory and pricing data with Google, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Google requires retailers using its Local Inventory Ads to share prices and product availability by location; it recommends they specify inventory levels. Wal-Mart has about 5,000 U.S. stores, most housing more than 100,000 products, so the company was sending Google more than one billion lines of data daily, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Wal-Mart was particularly worried about exposing prices, which can vary from store to store, another person familiar with the matter said.

Frankly, I’m amazed Wal-Mart ever shared that information. Google will have vacuumed it up and stored and analysed it in so many ways.


Teen clothing retail trumped by gadgets and food as status symbol » IB Times

Nadine DeNinno:

Clothes may make the man, but an iPhone makes a teenager.

Apparel brands like Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch have fallen out of favour with teens. The mall-based retailers are reporting low earnings for the first quarter. But the problem goes deeper than a harsh winter that hurt retail sales across the board: Young shoppers simply don’t care about clothes as much as they used to…

…When they do shop, young consumers are looking for gadgets rather than clothes. “Fashion apparel for the teenager is not the first considered purchase,” [Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Stephanie] Wissink said. Teens see electronics as “popularity devices, not utilities.”


Would you buy a ‘smart band’ for an Apple Watch? » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino, with a great scoop:

the Apple Watch has a port that the company has yet to show off. It’s being used for diagnostics and direct access to the Watch operating system, but it’s feasible that could be used to connect accessories in the future.

The port has a 6-dot brass contact array inside the groove for the ‘bottom’ strap connector slot. Several sources have confirmed its existence and placement to me. It is very similar to the connector for the Lightning connector in iPhones, as that connector currently only uses 6 of its 8 available pins. Apple recently began opening up the Lightning port for use by third parties. A source says that this port is currently for diagnostic purposes only — but that there is nothing preventing it from being a connection port for future accessories.

Let’s get this out of the way: As far as I know, smart bands will not be a part of the first Apple Watch version.


Will A.I. destroy us? » Medium

Prener Gupta and Parag Chordia, founders of Telepathic (“a company that uses AI to enhance human creativity”):

we believe superhuman machine intelligence is our best chance of long-term survival as a species.

It’s not that artificial intelligence won’t someday become superhuman. It almost certainly will.

But we think the doomsday predictions about A.I. wiping out our species, thought-provoking as they are, fall into the same trap that renders most futurist predictions wrong: they assume everything else will remain constant.

Unconvinced. At least, bt this argument.


Oracle extends its adware bundling to include Java for Macs » ZDNet

Ed Bott commits journalism:

For several years, Oracle has been bundling the Ask toolbar with its Java software for Windows PCs, often using deceptive methods to convince customers to install the unwanted add-on.

With the latest release of Java for the Mac, Oracle has begun bundling the Ask adware with default installations as well, changing homepages in the process.

The unwelcome Ask extension shows up as part of the installer if a Mac user downloads Java 8 Update 40 for the Mac. In my tests on a Mac running that latest release of OS X, the installer added an app to the current browser, Chrome version 41. (In a separate test, I installed Java using the latest version of Safari, where it behaved in a similar fashion.)

As with its Windows counterpart, the Java installer selects the option to install the Ask app by default. A casual Mac user who simply clicks through the dialog boxes to complete the installation will find the app installed and enabled in their browser, with the New Tab page changed to one with an Ask search box.

Do tactics like this belong to companies from a particular generation (my initial feeling)? Then again, the number of hijacks on mobile pages is growing, so perhaps not. It’s just scummy behaviour, which seems to afflict lots of companies.


Google and Wikipedia: Best Friends Forever » Newslines

Mark Devlin points out something important:

The Knowledge Graph is just the most obvious part of the co-dependent relationship between Google and Wikipedia. The relationship most obviously benefits Wikipedia by giving it traffic. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, said in 2010 that the site received 60-70% of its traffic from Google. Wikipedia is almost always in Google’s top three results, and more often than not it’s the top result. The top result is clicked 36.4% of the time and one of the top three results is clicked 58.4% of the time. I pointed out in my last article that there is practically no need for the second page of results as 94% of readers click on a link on the first page of results.

This means that Google is giving Wikipedia around one third of its traffic. But how is this good for Google? Surely Google would rather keep people in Google than let them go to Wikipedia? Well firstly, the Knowledge Graph does keep people in Google longer. For example, instead of going to IMDb for movie data, owned by competitor Amazon, the Wikipedia snippet is right there on the page as well as the list of movie roles. The searcher stays in Google’s system.

A more important reason is that the Wikipedia link keeps Google’s competitors off of the top result. For example, the fight between IMDb and Wikipedia for the top spot for movies benefits Google immensely. If Google can shift IMDb from first to second place then IMDb gets 66% less clickthroughs, an enormous number of potential customers lost. Google can then defend itself by saying that Wikipedia has a “better” ranking, but that’s self-serving.

Excellent post, and one to think about.


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