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Scientists build robotic ant colony to find out how real ants choose directions | The Verge


As anyone who’s ever observed an ant farm will attest, ants tend to pick the most efficient route through their maze to a food source, even when confronted with two seemingly identical routes. Scientists weren’t exactly sure how ants are able to do this, especially with limited vision and limited brainpower. So a team of researchers built a robotic ant army to find out.

For their study on swarm intelligence, researchers from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology turned to Alice, a type of tiny, wheeled cube robot developed several years ago by Swiss scientists. The researchers programmed the robots to mimic some basic ant behaviors, such as to avoid obstacles and to follow light trails, which were used to represent pheromone trails that real ants leave for each other. They discovered that relying on just these simple behaviors, the robots were able to select the shortest path through a maze most of the time (over 70 percent of trials), approaching ant-like levels of success.

The high level of performance of robots using only simple programs led the researchers to conclude that ants aren’t using any “complex cognitive process” to pick their route, and instead rely mainly on a loose obstacle-avoidance system and directions laid out by peers that have already successfully navigated the maze. The scientists published their results in an open access journal PloS Computational Biology this week. Their next step is to figure out how ants come up with the structure of their mazes in the first place. Don’t worry about any robotic ants getting loose, though — the researchers returned their robots to a supply company, as one of the scientists leading the group told The Verge.

Scientists build robotic ant colony to find out how real ants choose directions | The Verge.

Microsoft makes good on promise, publishes list of 41K patents | Intellectual property – InfoWorld

Microsoft makes good on promise, publishes list of 41K patents | Intellectual property – InfoWorld.

Microsoft today launched a searchable list of its complete patent portfolio as part of its defense of the patent system, particularly software patents.

The list is currently composed of nearly 41,000 U.S. and international patents assigned to Microsoft or one of its subsidiaries.

[ InfoWorld’s Bill Snyder says “Save Silicon Valley — abolish patents now.” | Simon Phipps tells it like it is: Why software patents are evil. | Stay ahead of the key tech business news with InfoWorld’s Today’s Headlines: First Look newsletter. | Read Bill Snyder’s Tech’s Bottom Line blog for what the key business trends mean to you. ]

“Transparency around patent ownership will help prevent gamesmanship by companies that seek to lie in wait and ‘hold up’ companies rather than enable a well-functioning secondary market,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, on a blog announcing the searchable list. “[And] transparency is a prerequisite to enforceability of patent licensing pledges. Quite simply, without transparency it is impossible to determine if a company is in fact abiding by those commitments.”

Users can filter Microsoft’s list by country, or search by patent number, the title of the patent, or the assignee. However, the list does not include the patent application date or when a patent was awarded.

More information about each patent must be retrieved from the granting agency’s website, such as the one maintained by the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).

A 4.3MB file in .csv (comma-separated values) format is also available for download from the website; the file can be imported into, say, a spreadsheet for additional analysis.

Microsoft has been pushing patent transparency since February, when Smith argued that governments need to fix what’s broken, but leave what’s working untouched. Among the reforms he urged was more openness on who owned what, a stance contrary to of many major companies, which instead file patents through difficult-to-track subsidiaries.

After appearing before congressional staffers during a Washington, D.C., briefing Feb. 21, Smith promised that Microsoft would publish a list of its patents by April 1.

Today, Smith called on others to follow Microsoft’s lead. “We urge other companies to join us in making available information about which patents they own,” he said.

Although Smith did not name names, Google had to be on his mind: The two firms have beenlocked in legal battles over patents, including those now owned by Google after its acquisition of Motorola.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed. His e-mail address is See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

Zuckerberg’s activist group hires lobbyists to help push immigration reform | VentureBeat

Zuckerberg’s activist group hires lobbyists to help push immigration reform | VentureBeat.


Mark Zuckerberg: Billionaire, social network tycoon, and now, activist.

Last week the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Facebook CEO was planning his own advocacy group, and now a new report from Politco says the group is getting it own lobbyists: big shot firms Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart and Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock

While we don’t know many details about Zuckerberg’s group (like its name, for instance), the selection of the two firms — and their lead lobbyists – meshes well with one the main issues the group will focus on: immigration, which has become a major issue for tech companies.

Zuckerberg’s interest in immigration is unsurprising. After all, making it easier for people to enter and work in the United States would certainly give tech companies like Facebook access to more bright minds.

So while immigration in the United States has as of late been focused on our southern border, Zuckerberg’s interests are much larger — and potentially hugely beneficial to Facebook.


Android-Powered PC Lets Parents Monitor Kids’ Activities

When it comes to digitally-inclined children, a parent’s biggest concern is safety. Kids’ constant connection makes it difficult to keep track of how much time they’re spending online or what content they’re coming across — but one Kickstarter project is giving parents back the control.

MiiPC, a compact personal computing device, connects with most computer monitors or TV screens and lets parents track use from a mobile app. The device runs on Android‘s OS and each family member can utilize a separate desktop account. Check out the video, above, for more.

If your child is playing Angry Birds instead of researching a book report, you can keep them on course by specifying which apps and websites they can access. You can even log them out remotely or prevent future logins. Parents can also review a history of users’ online use, and each account is personalized and can be controlled in real-time.

SEE ALSO: 6 Essential Apps for Connected Families

The idea is to provide a simple and effective way for families to take back control of online experiences, MiiPC’s creators explain on the site. The PC reached its $50,000 funding goal in less than 24 hours and had raised nearly $100,000 at time of writing.

MiiPC is available for $99 with estimated shipping in August.

What do you think of MiiPC? Are there any devices or tools you use to monitor your kids online? Let us know in the comments.

Images courtesy of miiPC

Microsoft signals push to smaller, lower-priced Windows tablets

Microsoft has relaxed a Windows 8 certification requirement to allow devices with lower resolutions, a move analysts said signaled Microsoft would soon join the accelerating shift to smaller, less expensive tablets.

“The sub-eight-inch part of the tablet market will be growing this year to about 55% of the entire market,” said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst with IDC. “Microsoft hasn’t even been playing in that segment, and they needed to do something.”

[ Windows 8 is here, and InfoWorld covers Microsoft’s new direction, the touch interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more in the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Ed Bott, a blogger with ZDNet, first reported on the resolution requirement change earlier today. Microsoft spelled out the relaxed rule in a March 12 newsletter from its certification program, which oversees use of the Windows logos that OEMs prominently display on their hardware.

In that newsletter, Microsoft made it clear that while it will now allow lower-resolution devices — the new minimum is 1024 x 768 — it would prefer that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) stick with higher-resolution screens.

“This doesn’t imply that we’re encouraging partners to regularly use a lower screen resolution,” thenewsletter stated. “In fact, we see customers embracing the higher-resolution screens that make a great Windows experience. [But] we understand that partners exploring designs for certain markets could find greater design flexibility helpful.”

The previous Windows 8 certification rule — which also applied to Windows RT — required a minimum 1366 x 768 resolution, and thus a 16:9 aspect ratio. The lower resolution would allow for Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets similar to Apple’s smaller iPad, which relies on a 7.9-in. display with 1024 x 768 resolution, and results in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Analysts interpreted the certification change as just that: Microsoft is giving OEMs the green light for smaller Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets, and signaling that it will do so itself in its Surface line, all an effort to compete with the likes of the $329 iPad Mini and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. The latter boasts an 8-in. screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution.

“There’s no doubt, from a Surface perspective, that Microsoft is interested in the 7-in. and 8-in. form factor,” said Carolina Milanesi of Gartner. “To consumers, content consumption is what matters, and for that, the [smaller] form factors are ideal.”

Both Milanesi and O’Donnell noted that because of their smaller screens, such tablets will be lower priced, another area where Microsoft has so far been AWOL.

“The question is, how low will they go?” said O’Donnell. “They may shoot for $399, but they really need to start at $299.”

Milanesi suggested even lower prices, arguing that Microsoft and its Surface line, as well as OEMs’ tablets, need to be price-competitive with $199 Android tablets, and not aim only at the higher-priced iPad Mini, which leads off at $329.

To do that, however, Microsoft will have to lower more than just its resolution requirements.


What’s the Fastest Cloud Storage Service?

What’s the Fastest Cloud Storage Service?.

From Dropbox and Google Drive to SkyDrive, all of the major online storage services have their own unique strengths, but we wanted to answer one question: Who has the fastest cloud? After all, if you have to wait around for those photos to upload or to download that important presentation in a pinch, what’s the point? To find out which cloud service offers the best transfer speeds, we put five popular options to the test.

How We Tested

To conduct our tests, we zipped a 300MB folder filled with photos, music and video files then uploaded it to and downloaded it from Google Drive, SkyDrive, SugarSync, Dropbox and Kim Dotcom’s new Mega service. We performed each set of uploads and downloads three times and took the average, conducting our testing over the course of five business days.

Each test was performed using the latest version of the Chrome browser with our office Ethernet connection, which typically averages 12.9 Mbps down and 17.8 Mbps up on

Editors’ Note: We did not evaluate Apple’s iCloud because the service is not designed to be used as a typical upload/download file storage service like the other services in this story are.

Upload Results

Kim Dotcom’s recently-launched Mega service finished our upload test in an average of 2 minutes and 34 seconds, besting its nearest rival, SkyDrive (3:08), by 34 seconds. Google Drive came in third with an average upload time of 3:39, which is just over a full minute faster than Dropbox (4:42 per upload). Sugarsync lagged behind the rest by a wide margin, taking an average of 10 minutes and 27 seconds to upload our test file.

Download Results

Google Drive seized the download crown with an average time of 3 minutes and 28 seconds, edging out Dropbox (3:33) by just 5 ticks. Mega (3:56) trailed Dropbox by 23 seconds, SkyDrive finished fourth with a time of 4:36 and, once again, Sugarsync brought up the rear by taking 11 minutes and 2 seconds to pull our zip file from its servers to our machine.


If you add the upload and download times together, Mega takes the overall crown with an average task completion mark of 6 minutes and 30 seconds. However, it’s important to remember that this relatively new service has less users than other services. In addition, some potential users may we hesitant to try Mega because of the controversy surrounding Mega CEO Kim Dotcom’s previous service, Mega Upload. It was shut down by the FBI in January 2012 for allegedly enabling piracy.

Among more established cloud storage services, Google Drive wins with a total time of 7:07. The speed difference between the top four services isn’t overwhelming, but if time is of the essence, we’d avoid SugarSync. With a total task time of a whopping 21 minutes and 29 seconds, the service is as slow as molasses when it comes to uploading and downloading.

Image via iStocknihatdursun

This article originally published at LAPTOP Magazine here

AnandTech | NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost Review: Bringing Balance To The Force

AnandTech | NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost Review: Bringing Balance To The Force.

To get our weekly geekiness quota out of the way early, the desktop video card industry is a lot like The Force. There are two sides constantly at odds with each other for dominance of the galaxy/market, and balance between the two sides is considered one of the central tenants of the system. Furthermore when the system isn’t in balance something bad happens, whether it’s galactic domination or uncompetitive video card prices and designs.

To that end – and to bring things back to a technical discussion – while AMD and NVIDIA’s ultimate goals are to rule the video card market, in practice they serve to keep each other in check and keep the market as a whole balanced. This is accomplished by their doing what they can to offer similarly competitive video cards at most price points, particularly the sub-$300 market where the bulk of all video card sales take place. On the other hand when that balance is disrupted by the introduction of a new GPU and/or new video card, AMD and NVIDIA will try to roll out new products to restore that balance.

This brings us to the subject of today’s launch. Friday saw the launch of AMD’s Radeon HD 7790, a $149 entry-level 1080p card based on their new Bonaire GPU. AMD had for roughly the last half-year been operating with a significant price and performance gap between their 7770 and 7850 products, leaving the mid-$100 market open to NVIDIA’s GTX 650 Ti. With the 7790 AMD finally has a GTX 650 Ti competitor and more, and left unchallenged this would mean AMD would control the market between $150 and $200.

NVIDIA for their part has no interest in letting AMD take that piece of the market without a fight, and as such will be immediately countering with a new video card: the GTX 650 Ti Boost. Launching today, the GTX 650 Ti Boost is based on the same GK106 GPU as the GTX 650 Ti and GTX 660, and is essentially a filler card to bridge the gap between them. By adding GPU boost back into the mix and using a slightly more powerful core configuration, NVIDIA intends to plug their own performance gap and at the same time counter AMD’s 7850 and 7790 before the latter even reaches retail. It’s never quite that simple of course, but as we’ll see the GTX 650 Ti Boost does indeed bring some balance back to the Force.

NVIDIA GPU Specification Comparison
GTX 660 GTX 650 Ti Boost GTX 650 Ti GTX 550 Ti
Stream Processors
Texture Units
Core Clock
Boost Clock
Memory Clock
6.008GHz GDDR5
6.008GHz GDDR5
5.4GHz GDDR5
4.1GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width
1/24 FP32
1/24 FP32
1/24 FP32
1/12 FP32
Transistor Count
Manufacturing Process
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 28nm
TSMC 40nm
Launch Price $229 $149/$169 $149 $149

When NVIDIA produced the original GTX 650 Ti, they cut down their GK106 GPU by a fairly large degree to reach the performance and power levels we see with that card. From 5 SMXes and 3 ROP/Memory partitions, GK106 was cut down to 4 SMXes and 2 ROP partitions, along with having GPU boost removed and overall clockspeeds lowered. In practice this left a pretty big gap between the GTX 650 Ti and the GTX 660, one which AMD’s 7850 and now their 7790 serve to fill.

Despite the name GTX 650 Ti Boost, it’s probably more meaningful to call NVIDIA’s new card the GTX 660 light. The GTX 650 Ti Boost restores many of the cuts NVIDIA made for the GTX 650 Ti; this latest 650 has the core clockspeed, memory clockspeed, GPU boost functionality, and ROP partitions of the GTX 660. In fact the only thing differentiating the GTX 660 from the GTX 650 Ti Boost is a single SMX; the GTX 650 Ti Boost is still a 4 SMX part, and this is what makes it a 650 in NVIDIA’s product stack (note that this means GTX 650 Ti Boost parts will similarly have either 2 or 3 GPCs depending on which SMX is cut). Because clockspeeds are identical to the GTX 660, the GTX 650 Ti Boost will be shipping at 980MHz for the base clock, 1033MHz for the boost clock, and 6GHz for the memory clock.

The result of this configuration is that the GTX 650 Ti Boost is much more powerful than the name would let on, and in practice is closer to the GTX 660 in performance than it is the GTX 650 Ti. Compared to the GTX 650 Ti, the GTX 650 TI Boost has just 106% of the shading/texturing/geometry throughput, but due in large part to the return of the 3rd ROP partition, ROP throughput has been boosted to 159%. Meanwhile thanks to the combination of higher memory clocks and the full 192bit memory bus, memory bandwidth has been increased to 166% of the GTX 650 Ti’s. Or compared to a GTX 660, the GTX 650 Ti Boost has 100% the ROP throughput, 100% the memory bandwidth, and 80% of the shading/texturing/geometry performance. The end result being that in memory/ROP bound scenarios performance will trend close to the GTX 660, while in shader/texture/geometry bound situations performance will easily exceed the GTX 650 Ti’s performance by 6-16%, depending on where GPU boost settles at.

Of course GTX 660-like performance does come with some tradeoffs. While the GTX 650 Ti was a 110W TDP part, the GTX 650 Ti Boost will be a 134W part, just shy of the 140W GTX 660. The GTX 650 Ti Boost runs at the same clockspeeds and the same voltages with the same amount of RAM as the GTX 660, meaning the power savings are limited to whatever power is saved from fusing off that SMX, which in practice will not be all that much. Even by NVIDIA’s own reckoning they’re minimal. So what we’re effectively looking at is a somewhat slower GTX 660 operating at near-GTX 660 power levels.

Driving home the point that the GTX 650 Ti Boost is a reconfigured GTX 660, with the TDP being held at 140W NVIDIA and their partners will be recycling their GTX 660 designs for NVIDIA’s new card. Our reference card is identical to our GTX 660 reference card, and the same can be said for many partner designs. Partners need to provide the same power and cooling to the GTX 650 Ti Boost as they do the GTX 660, so there’s little point in rolling new designs and in fact this helps NVIDIA and their partners get the GTX 650 Ti Boost to market sooner.

AnandTech | ASUS Maximus V Formula Z77 ROG Review


AnandTech | ASUS Maximus V Formula Z77 ROG Review.

The motherboard market is tough – the enthusiast user would like a motherboard that does everything but is cheap, and the system integrator would like a stripped out motherboard that is even cheaper.  An overclocker would like a minimalist setup that can push the limits of stability, and the gamer would like an all singing, all dancing everything.  The ASUS Maximus V Formula is designed to cater mainly to the gamer, but also to the enthusiast and the overclocker, for an all-in-one product with a distinct ROG feel.  With the combination air/water VRM cooling system, a mini-PCIe combo card with dual band WiFi and an mSATA port, one of the best on-board audio solutions and the regular array of easy-to-use BIOS/Software, ASUS may be onto a winner – and all they ask for is $270-300.

Overclocking for Z77 – Why Focus on Extreme Overclockers?

The motherboard market shrank in 2012, with reports suggesting that from the 80 million motherboards sold in 2011, this was down to 77 million worldwide in 2012.  In order to get market share, each company had to take it from someone else, or find a new niche in an already swollen industry.  To this extent, after the success of the ROG range, the top four motherboard manufacturers now all have weapons when it comes to hitting the enthusiast or power user with an overclocking platform.  These weapons are (with prices correct as of 3/7):

$400 – Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 (our review)
$379 – ASUS Maximus V Extreme
$290 – ASUS Maximus V Formula
$225 – ASRock Z77 OC Formula (our review, Silver Award)
$200 – ASUS Maximus V Gene
$190 – MSI Z77 MPower (our review)

There are two main differentiators between the low (<$300) and the high (>$350) end.  The first is the inclusion of PLX PEX 8747 chip, to allow 3-way or 4-way GPU setups.  We covered how the PLX chip works in our 4-board review here, but this functionality can add $30-$80 onto the board (depending on the bulk purchase order of the manufacturer and the profit margins wanted).  The second is usually attributed to the functionality and power delivery – the 32x IR3550s used on the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7 costs them a pretty penny, and the extensive feature list of the ASUS ROG boards usually filters through.

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