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2016 April

April 18, 2016

Google Books just won a decade-long copyright fight

Google Books wins case to continue to scan publications into its Books project.

The Supreme Court declined to listen to a case against Google for its Google Books project allowing them to continue to scan books into their databases.

According to the Washington Post, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from authors who had argued that the Google Books project was “brazen violation of copyright law” which effectively ended the decade-long issue in Google’s favor.

Since the Supreme Court did not take up the case, the federal appeals court ruling from October, which found that the book-scanning program was considered fair use, will stand.

In 2011, there had been a settlement worked out between Google and The Authors Guild but it was later rejected by a district court judge. Subsequent hearings from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that the efforts amounted to a “transformative” use of materials and that snippets from search findings did not amount to a “substantial substitute” for an original book.

Critics of the decisions made by the federal courts claim that this could weaken creators and their copyright by expanding fair use.

For more information, check out this article from the Washington Post.

April 12, 2016

Have we become too reliant on GPS?


In 2008, a Syrian truck driver was faithfully following his satellite navigation system and ended up 1,600 miles away from where he was supposed to be. He’d meant to go to Gibraltar, off the south coast of Spain. He arrived at Gibraltar Point, England, surrounded by a group of befuddled birdwatchers. For most of us, GPS works extremely well. The mapping apps on our mobile devices get us to where we need to go and are very accurate–so much so that we don’t think twice about it. However, GPS can fail miserably in unexpected ways.

The Global Positioning System consists of 31 satellites orbiting Earth from 12,550 miles up, transmitting signals as they go. The system was designed to assist the Department of Defense with military navigation but can now be accessed to anyone who has a GPS receiver in their car or phone. The receiver needs to receive at least four signals to determine its location.

Roger McKinlay, president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, submitted a paper on the subject highlighting that more satellite systems will help to improve accuracy over time (he specifically mentions the efforts of the European Union, Russia, and China respectively) but that knowing your position is only the beginning:

A sense of direction, a sense of scale and a map are essential. And knowledge of where you want to go also helps. The disappearance in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is a reminder of the vastness of our world.

Navigation is where complex systems meet capable users. Marrying them to enable truly intelligent transport will position us to get the best out of people and technology across many fields. The solutions lie around the next bend, just over the hill.

McKinlay goes on to advocate for a tripartite approach to greater capability both in navigation technology and navigation and orienteering education to be able “to make better use of our innate capabilities. Machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination; it might be more reliable to employ a human driver than to program an autonomous car to avert crashes. If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.”

For more information on this topic, check out these articles:

Roger McKinlay’s paper on the interaction between technology and innate navigation.

Vox wrote an article on the possibility of the over-reliance on GPS systems and the correlation between navigation and the size of the hippocampus.

April 6, 2016

California (and the Northwest) may be in for greater weather extremes

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge is depicted in shades of red on this map.

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge is depicted in shades of red on this map.

KQED, the San Francisco-based affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) released an article by Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford University working in conjunction with Northwestern and Columbia Universities on the possible causes behind the multi-year drought that has befallen California in the last few years.

One primary reason for the extreme wet or dry years is what Swain called the “Ridiculous Resilient Ridge” or RRR. The RRR is a strong ridge of high pressure that has built up over the last several years off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington. The jet stream is forced further north than what was the usual leading to unseasonably warm weather in the Northwestern United States and less precipitation in California. Additionally, it creates an extreme ridge and trough that can be seen in weather patterns in North America (as seen in the image above). The effects of this new trend has manifested in different ways: Some include severely low groundwater levels that are contributing to the mountains moving into the gaps left behind causing minor earthquakes throughout California’s Central Valley and increased water temperature in the northeastern Pacific Ocean.

For more on this phenomenon, click here to read more of Daniel Swain’s article on

April 4, 2016

SpaceX is launching an inflatable space habitat for the ISS

The space station’s Canadarm attaching the BEAM inflatable module to Node 3 of the ISS. GIF courtesy of NASA.

On its next trip to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s Dragon rocket will be carrying an inflatable module on its payload. The module–the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module or BEAM–will essentially create a new room on the ISS once it is connected and inflated. At full inflation, the BEAM’s internal volume will be ten times its launch volume.

Inflatable modules are attractive from a mass and volume perspective. Before launch, they are smaller and lighter requiring less fuel and other expenses. This concept is not new to space. NASA originally licensed its inflatable technology in 2000 before Congress canceled the TransHab project and NASA’s first communications satellite, Echo, was inflatable.

For more information on this project, check out this article from TechCrunch.

April 1, 2016

Microsoft is bringing the Bash to Windows 10

This is the GNU Emacs program running on an Ubuntu image with Windows.

This is the GNU Emacs program running on an Ubuntu image with Windows.

TechCrunch reporting from the Microsoft Build conference this week has reported that the Bash shell–commonly found in Mac OS X and Linux operating systems–is going to be on Windows 10. Bash runs natively within Ubuntu on Windows and it will be included as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update this summer but it will be available to Windows Insiders before that and on the Windows Store soon. Bash also could be the beginning of more shells coming according to Microsoft VP Terry Myerson.

Under its new CEO Satya Nadella, the company has embraced the idea that it wants to target all developers and platforms and not just its own. Recently, Linux was embraced to run on their cloud service, Azure and they are also looking to make SQL Server available for Linux in return.

For more on this announcement, check out the article from TechCrunch.

Scott Hanselman’s blog delves deeper into how Bash will interact with Windows. Click here for more.