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All over eastern Kentucky, you see cars and pickup trucks with black license plates proclaiming the owner is a "friend of coal."

Even though the license plates are all over, it's getting harder to find actual coal miners here: Fewer than 6,000 remain in the state, where the coal industry is shrinking fast. More than 10,000 coal workers have been laid off since 2008.

Many have had to leave the area to find work, but a few have found employment in other — and sometime unexpected — fields, as businesses are innovating to use former coal workers in new ways.

This is your brain on information overload

May 6, 2016
Author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin
Courtesy Photo/Peter Prato

With more and more information at our fingertips, the human brain is constantly sorting and filing an overwhelming amount of data.

In his book, “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” neuroscientist Daniel Levitin breaks down hard science on brain productivity. He addresses simple things to help improve brain efficiency, like making lists and checking them off, taking breaks and allocating time.

Bill Buzenberg and Ross Reynolds
KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

Digital media and the World Wide Web have disrupted media, decimating the newspaper business and upending other legacy media outlets. After years of strong growth is digital disruption finally reaching public radio? Some question whether NPR can survive. Others feel the public radio collaboration between radio stations and the network is fraying.

In this interview recorded at Town Hall in Seattle, May 3, Ross Reynolds speaks with the former head of NPR news, Bill Buzenberg.

It just became easier for students to fly drones as part of their class work. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday loosened restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft in academia.

Working through a self-help program online can prevent or delay major depression disorder in people who are vulnerable, a study finds. Similar programs have been used to treat depression, but this may be the first one tested to prevent it, the researchers say.

Online programs for mental health problems can be as effective as face-to-face treatment and offer some advantages: Low cost, available at any time and customizable. But they're not panaceas.

A frequent sight in our newsroom: Business reporter Carolyn Adolph arguing with Siri, the iPhone personal assistant.
KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

Jeannie Yandel talks with Geekwire's Monica Nickelsburg about why virtual assistants like Siri typically have female sounding voices.

Though it's the world's top infectious killer, tuberculosis is surprisingly tricky to diagnose. Scientists think that video gamers can help them create a better diagnostic test.

An online puzzle released Monday will see whether the researchers are right. Players of a Web-based game called EteRNA will try to design a sensor molecule that could potentially make diagnosing TB as easy as taking a home pregnancy test. The TB puzzle marks the launch of "EteRNA Medicine."

What do you get in Cracker Jack? A QR code, apparently.

The "Prize Inside" will no longer actually be inside the box, Frito-Lay has announced. Like so many other aspects of our lives, the prize will be digitized.

A small mammal has sabotaged the world's most powerful scientific instrument.

The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable.

International trade disputes used to be relatively simple.

One country would build up an industry to create jobs, and then dump excess products in another country at below-cost prices. Competitors facing unrealistically cheap imports would file "anti-dumping" complaints to seek government-backed protections.

Note: This video contains offensive and abusive language.

[Youtube]

Two Chicago-area sports journalists were tired of being the target of abusive online comments from men, so they gathered up the degrading tweets that had been directed at them and asked other men to read them to their faces. The result is a video that has been viewed more than a million times.

Its name will be "Red Dragon." And if the latest partnership between SpaceX and NASA works out, the privately funded craft will land on Mars to collect scientific data — possibly within the next two years. The plan is to use the Dragon capsule, but without a human crew.

"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018," the company said via Facebook Wednesday. "These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."

You probably know it's against the law in most states to text and drive — but studies suggest that many of us still peek at our smartphones when we're behind the wheel.

This habit, however, contributes to distracted driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,179 people were killed in car crashes involving a distracted driver in 2014.

If I told you there was a way to keep using your phone forever, would you want to?

In true unscientific form, I surveyed some phone users in downtown Washington, D.C.

Lucy, a golden retriever from Connecticut, is a dog of the future. Imagine this: As she trots down a suburban street, a girl with a scooter can't help but stare. Attached to Lucy's collar is a leash, and attached to her leash is a small quadcopter drone. When the drone moves to the left, she looks up at it and follows along.

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, walks past a projected display showing Bill Gates, lower left, and himself, during a discussion of Nokia's Lumia 920, equipped with Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, Sept. 5, 2012 in New York.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Microsoft stock is taking a hit after failing to deliver on financial market expectations. One reason is the Windows Phone. 

The company reported  its earnings after markets closed, saying quarterly profit was 62 cents per share. Analysts had expected 64 cents per share. The stock fell by about 5 percent to almost $53 in after-hours trading.

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Larry Downing/Reuters

It’s been eight years since DJ Patil — then the data and analytics lead at LinkedIn — helped coin the term “data scientist,” and the profession has already become one of the most popular in the country.

When Defense Secretary Ashton Carter landed in Iraq for a surprise visit this week, he came armed with this news: More than 200 additional U.S. troops are headed to that country. They'll join the fight to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State.

As that battle unfolds on the ground, a parallel war against ISIS is unfolding in cyberspace.

For days, the tech media was mesmerized: Rumors were running amok about the mysterious third party that helped the FBI unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone and one particular Israeli security company landed in the spotlight.

As weeks go by, the expectations that the third-party helper or its mysterious technique would be revealed are quickly declining. The theories, however, continue to ripple out.

A solar-powered plane called the Solar Impulse 2 is preparing to resume its flight around the world after nine months on the ground for repairs.

The team's goal: to be the first plane to circumnavigate the globe using only solar power.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel tells our Newscast unit that the plane is getting ready for liftoff in Hawaii. Here's more from Geoff:

Saying its customers "have a right to know when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails" — and that Microsoft has a right to tell them about gag orders — the tech giant has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department.

Microsoft is asking a judge to declare part of a federal law, specifically 18 U.S.C. § 2705(b), unconstitutional under both the First and Fourth Amendments.

As NPR's Aarti Shahani reports for our Newscast unit:

OfferUp website shows goods being offered near the user.
Screen grab 4/14/2016

A Bellevue startup wants to move in on the buy-and-sell market created by Craigslist. Private investors seem to think OfferUp could do it: They have estimated the company's value at more than $800 million.

Ian Burkhart, now 24, was paralyzed in 2010 after diving into a wave in shallow water. The accident left him with some arm movement but no use of his hands.

Mark Zuckerberg has laid out a 10-year master plan for Facebook. It's bold. It's savvy. And it glosses over a key detail: the dark side of making the world more connected.

Emojis were supposed to be the great equalizer: a language all its own capable of transcending borders and cultural differences.

Not so fast, say a group of researchers who found that different people had vastly different interpretations of some popular emojis. The researchers published their findings for GroupLens, a research lab based out of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Updated at 11:52 a.m. ET with a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Inventors and entrepreneurs have logged years of complaining about the patent system, and there are some good reasons. In 2015, patent litigation rose 13 percent from the previous year according to a study by Unified Patents, and two-thirds of those suits were brought by nonpracticing entities, or so-called "patent trolls."

  Bill Radke speaks with local filmmaker Delaney Ruston about her documentary "Screenagers."

Artificial limbs have come a long way since the days of peg legs and hooks for hands. But one thing most of these prosthetics lack is a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao intends to change that.

The KQED podcast Love in the Digital Age explores "how technology changes the way we experience love, friendship, intimacy and connection." The most recent episode focuses on two people — a Los Angeles radio host and his wife — who have drawn great strength from their online communities and social media as they face his diagnosis of terminal cancer. You can listen to the podcast here.

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