Open source planetarium

Thanks goes to Bill, over at Dubious Quality, for pointing out Stellarium.  It is a free, open source planetarium.  Here’s a description from the site:

It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.

It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go.

Screen shots and additional information are available at the site.  The software is currently at release 0.8.0, so expect some bugs, but as with most open source projects past 0.1.0, there are likely not many or very minor.

[tags]Open Source planetarium, Stellarium[/tags]

Serious Diebold voting machine flaws

(via Freedom to Tinker)

A recently released report at BlackBoxVoting details some serious flaws in Diebold voting machines. The information is enough to make one wonder (wonder again, for those that have been keeping track of this stuff) why all electronic voting machines do not have mandatory paper ballots to go with the electronic votes. Every location using these, or any other electronic voting machines, should have a mandatory paper ballot which prints out for review by the voter and is kept seperately in a voting box for later review in close elections or in instances of suspected fraud or error.

It may seem that printing a paper ballot would invalidate the whole concept of electronic voting, but it is a simple and effective safety measure that might not ever be called upon. Given the difficulty in reviewing the code running inside these machines, a paper trail is just a smart backup. Most results will likely not be challenged, but when they are, the paper box is invaluable. Additionally, voters will be able to verify their votes by looking at the paper print-out before they leave the voting box.

A report by Harri Hursti, released today at BlackBoxVoting, describes some very serious security flaws in Diebold voting machines. These are easily the most serious voting machine flaws we have seen to date — so serious that Hursti and BlackBoxVoting decided to redact some of the details in the reports. (We know most or all of the redacted information.) Now that the report has been released, we want to help people understand its implications.

. . .

Election officials are in a very tough spot with this latest vulnerability. Since exploiting the weakness requires physical access to a machine, physical security is of the utmost importance. All Diebold Accuvote machines should be sequestered and kept under vigilant watch. This measure is not perfect because it is possible that the machines are already compromised, and if it was done by a clever attacker, there may be no way to determine whether or not this is the case. Worse yet, the usual method of patching software problems cannot be trusted in this case.

[tags]Diebold, Electronic voting[/tags]

Measuring the earth’s magnetic field

Sometimes, you can’t blame every worldly problem on President Bush. In this instance, scientists have known the earth’s magnetic field has weakened approximately 5% per century since 1840. What hasn’t been known is the change in times prior to that, because accurate records did not seem to exist. Recently, however, researchers have been using the log books from Captain Cook’s Pacific Ocean voyage to determine earlier fields states. And it looks like the field didn’t change much at that time.

So the changes are recent. At least, in geological terms. But not recent enough to blame it all on the current administration. And in the end, the weakening looks to be coming from the southern pole via patches of reverse magnetic flux – and I’m sure President Bush doesn’t have a machine to make that happen.

The modeling of historical magnetic data started in the early 1980’s by study team member David Gubbins, a researcher from University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Gubbins and colleagues started with readily available data like those in the logs of famed English sailor and explorer, James Cook.

“[We then] progressed to searching archives in Europe, including finding 50,000 ‘lost’ 18th century measurements in the East India Company Archives in London,” Gubbins told LiveScience.

The whole process of figuring this out sounds fascinating to me. But I’m a big geek that way.

[tags]Magnetic field[/tags]

The real cost of hybrid cars

Another article, this one is about figuring what a hybrid car really costs or saves you over a guestimated lifetime. Also covered is a little information on how hybrids work. The punchline is that at current prices, with current gas costs and current tax incentives, the average consumer does save with a hybrid, but not a lot. The article is worth looking at, still, if you have any thoughts of buying a hybrid. After all, saving a little is still a savings.

There are four types of hybrid systems:

  • Stop-start: shuts engine off when the car comes to a full stop and would otherwise idle.
  • Integrated Starter Alternator with Damping (ISAD): has the stop-start feature and an electric motor.
  • Integrated Motor Assist: The functions are identical to the ISAD but it has a larger electric motor for better performance.
  • Full hybrid system: cars generally run on electric power at low speeds with the gas engine kicking in at higher speeds.

[tags]Hybrid cars[/tags]

Joystiq MMO round-up

Wow. I knew there were tons of MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) coming out in the near future. Stacked on top of those already existing MMOs (in particular, the overwhelming current king World of Warcraft), this makes for a crowded market. What I didn’t realize, however, is that “tons of MMOs” amounts to somewhere close to 50. At least, that’s where I get to counting these upcoming MMOs covered at Joystiq.

For those new to MMOs, you might want to look at the free offerings first – like Bang! Howdy, Dofus-Arena (not Doofus, but Dofus), Dungeon Runners, or Planeshift (actually playable now, with some work). Veterans or those wanting to jump right in to the big names will perhaps more look at something like the Square/Enix MMO (although little information on it currently exists), Tabula Rasa (from gaming well-known, Richard Garriott), the Marvel or the DC superhero games (little information available on either, and no links to details), or, heaven forbid, even Hello Kitty online.

We can guarantee we’ll be seeing a lot of MMOs at E3, so that’s why we’re bringing you this comprehensive overview of every MMO we currently know to be in development — excluding expansions of existing MMOs. Here’s a quick summary of the trends that we see emerging from this list:

  • East meets West. Ten out of the thirty-five games listed are Korean MMOs hoping to make it in America and Europe, with several companies banking on the success of such a translation.
  • Elves and Orcs. Despite a number of fantasy-themed MMOs, there are several under development that have no sign of the fantastic about them — instead, we see themes from sci-fi to pirates.
  • Microtransactions. Pay for currency, don’t pay for the game — this increasingly common strategy allows gamers to try games for free. Those who become heavy players end up pouring in more cash than they would have paid for an all-you-can-play monthly subscription.
  • Casual MMOs. Three of the titles listed below are trying to break into the casual space, with appealing cutesy graphics and Flash-based play. Most casual titles aren’t persistent, though games like Runescape have done well out of the browser-based market so far.
  • New developers. Fifteen of the studios below are working on their first MMO, or their first game altogether. This could mean increased innovation, or more problems — MMOs are risky business.

Honestly, this is one of the most interesting gaming reads I’ve laid eyes upon lately. If you have any thought of trying out large scale online gaming, you should look through this list and see if anything catches your eye. Sadly, many of these games will likely fail or fail to launch. Of those that do make it though, there should be quite a lot of variety for those who are looking for something new.

[tags]Gaming, MMOs, E3 trends[/tags]

Hybrid bear found

Sometimes, I even surprise myself with the tidbits of information I see that pique my interest. For some reason, I just couldn’t skip this article at after seeing the title – “DNA Tests Confirm Bear Was a Hybrid.”

Now really, how could you skip a story like that?

IQALUIT, Nunavut (AP) – Northern hunters, scientists and people with vivid imaginations have discussed the possibility for years.

But Roger Kuptana, an Inuvialuit guide from Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories, was the first to suspect it had actually happened when he proposed that a strange-looking bear shot last month by an American sports hunter might be half polar bear, half grizzly.

So since I felt the need to post it here, you can probably guess that this bear actually *IS* a hybrid. But head over the the LiveScience article to find out more details about the bear. It’s pretty cool (no pun intended).

[tags]Hybrid bear[/tags]

Gigabyte g-Smart i

(via TechEBlog)
Normally, I don’t give a rip about new cell phones – at least, not enough to bother posting or talking much about them. This phone, however, looks pretty interesting to me. The Gigabyte g-Smart i is a clone of the Nokia 6270.  And it’s a phone I actually would like to have.i_phone_1.jpg

Here’s a Nokia 6270 clone done right. The g-Smart i features a 2.1-megapixel camera, MiniSD card slot, 2.4-inch TFT touch screen display, FM tuner, GPS navigation system (optional), TV tuner (optional), and support for a host of audio/video files (MP3/MPEG-4/3GPP/WMV). Plus, it’s powered by Windows Mobile 5.0. This phone measures just 19.8mm thin and weighs 130g. No word yet on pricing and availability.

[tags]Cell Phone, g-Smart i, Nokia 6270 clone[/tags]