How particle physics could make recommendation engines smarter

Autore: ExtremeTech

When browsing Netflix or shopping on Amazon, you might find yourself laughing at the occasional absurdity and incorrectness of the service’s recommendations. You know how it goes: “We see you bought an ethernet cable, perhaps you might like this rice cooker.” However, researchers at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland have found a way to use particle physics to help recommendation engines suggest things that you’d actually enjoy.

If you’re fed up with ridiculous recommendations, Stanislao Gualdi and two fellow researchers feel they are on track to improving these engines to a point where they make sense more often than they do currently. The researchers first focused on an issue of recommendation engines that the general public may not usually consider — not if the user would actually like the recommendation, but what happens when too many users accept the recommendation. For example, a restaurant discovery app might recommendation a good Chinese restaurant, but if it recommends that place to a large number of people, the restaurant might become too packed with patrons, turning the outing into a poor experience. To solve the problem, the team looked to and unlikely place: particle physics.

Photons can infinitely occupy a given state, whereas only one electron can occupy a given state. Revisiting the over-occupied restaurant example, Gualdi and his team set out to solve that issue by comparing the available-space-to-patron ratio to the occupancy states of particles. They tested their occupancy theory using DVD renting as a model, and found that even though they were focusing on avoiding a large crowd, their method helped increase overall recommendation accuracy. This is because of consumer bias.

Popular on Netflix

The team found that biases are removed when lowering the number of people that can obtain a DVD, compared to when anyone and everyone can obtain the same DVD. They also found that limiting the amount of DVDs available forces users to find other things to watch and form opinions on, which leads to a broader range of recommendations. Essentially, the system is forcing you to find something else you like, because the original thing you wanted to access isn’t available. Devious.

The biggest problem with the most popular recommendation engines (Amazon and Netflix come to mind), is that there’s virtually no reason for the two companies to artificially limit their stock. Amazon would lose money if users looking for a video game couldn’t buy that specific game, and a core philosophy of Netflix Instant — “infinite copies” of digital media available to everyone whenever they want (licensing issues aside) — stands in direct contradiction to arbitrary limits.

So, how could this particle occupancy theory help Netflix better understand that just because you liked Lost doesn’t mean you’ll like Friday Night Lights – or that those two aren’t really related? It probably won’t, unless a retailer feels like being experimental enough to artificially limit the availability of its product, and forces you to find new things you like and then tell them about it.

Now read: Higgs boson, unfortunately, is behaving exactly as we expected

Research paper: Crowd Avoidance and Diversity in Socio-Economic Systems and Recommendation

Con PlayStation 4 Sony abbandonerà il DualShock

Autore: Hardware Upgrade RSS

La prossima PlayStation metterà fine a una tradizione lunga 16 anni. Nel 1997, infatti, il primo esemplare di DualShock comparve sugli scaffali dei negozi di videogiochi come controller secondario per PlayStation. La notizia dell’abbandono di Sony a DualShock proviene da Cvg: il noto sito britannico, infatti, ha appreso l’informazione da una fonte appartenente a un team di sviluppo che già sta lavorando sulla versione primordiale di PlayStation 4.

PlayStation 4

Sony starebbe portanto avanti esperimenti estensivi presso il suo dipartimento di R&D nel tentativo di trovare le funzionalità che meglio si sposano al pubblico videoludico di oggi. Sul nuovo controller ci sarebbero sensori biometrici posti sulla parte della periferica dedicata all’impugnatura e uno schermo LCD di tipo touchscreen.

Una seconda fonte sentita da Cvg, appartenente a un altro team di sviluppo sempre legato a Sony, avrebbe aggiunto che gli ingegneri PlayStation stanno “cercando di emulare la stessa filosofia che sta alla base dell’interfaccia utente di PS Vita”. Si riferisce probabilmente al fatto che ci sarà un touchscreen nella nuova periferica e al fatto che con la nuova console Sony vuole coniugare esigenze domestiche ed esigenze mobile.

La prossima console di Sony, che finora si conosce con il nome in codice di Orbis, verrebbe annunciata a breve, secondo le ultime indiscrezioni, addirittura nel giro di poche settimane. Avrebbe una capacità di calcolo superiore a quella della futura Xbox, anche se Sony si è sempre rifiutata di confermare queste indiscrezioni.

Tuttavia, anche se DualShock non sarà il controller principale della nuova console, è presumibile che i vecchi esemplari rimangano compatibili. Potrebbero servire da controller di supporto, con un rapporto simile a quello che intercorre tra telecomando Wii e GamePad Wii U.

Anche PlayStation 3, in realtà, venne lanciata senza il controller DualShock. In quel caso dipese dalla causa legale che coinvolgeva Sony e Immersion, la società che detiene il brevetto sulla tecnologia di vibrazione che sta alla base delle periferiche DualShock. In quel caso il supporto a DualShock in PlayStation 3 venne ripristinato in un secondo momento, quando Sony pagò 150 milioni di dollari in danni e spese legali per risolvere la controversia legale.

Il contratto di licenza tra Sony e Immersion ha validità fino al 2017, e Immersion ha dato facoltà a Sony di estendere la licenza anche alle future console. Tuttavia, le complicazioni dell’accordo potrebbero aver indotto Sony ad abbandonare la tecnologia Immersion e a costruire qualcosa di completamente proprietario.

ASUS e Microsoft insieme per un Padfone con Windows 8?

Autore: Hardware Upgrade RSS

Il produttore taiwanese ASUS starebbe, secondo le ultime indiscrezioni, discutendo con Microsoft per iniziare a produrre alcuni dispositivi, come ad esempio un Padfone, basato sul nuovo sistema opeartivo della compagnia di Redmond, ovvero Windows (Phone) 8.

Le informazioni giungono dal corporate vice president di ASUS, Benson Lin, che ha espresso le inenzioni sopra citate nel corso di una intervista rilasciata e pubblicata in queste ultime ore da Wall Street Journal.

Nel corso del 2012 ASUS ha raccolto un discreto successo grazie al proprio tablet da 7 pollici realizzato in collaborazione con Google che prende il nome di Nexus 7. Nel settore smartphone l’azienda taiwanese non è mai stata molto attiva ed è più che altro conosciuta per il proprio Padfone, lo smartphone convertibile che si trasforma in tablet se inserito nell’apposita dock.

Secondo quanto dichiarato da Benson Lin, proprio il particolare form factor del proprio Padfone sarebbe il motivo per il quale lo stesso potrebbe accogliere Windows 8 come sistema operativo. Nella realtà, Windows 8 RT, la versione per tablet ARM di Windows 8 non è cosi sovrapponibile con Windows Phone 8 come accade per le versioni di Android che attualmente equipaggiano Padfone 2.

Per questo motivo la domanda sorge spontanea, in che modo può essere possibile passare da un OS all’altro senza troppi problemi? Ora come ora è praticamente impossibile rispondere a questa domanda. Per questo motivo rimandiamo ogni possibile giudizio al momento di una eventuale conferma del progetto.

First Impressions: the TECK Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard

Autore: AnandTech

This is my very first encounter with the world’s first “Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, aka the TECK. I received the keyboard today after inquiring about a review sample—the reason for me being the reviewer this time around is that Dustin has no interest in an ergonomic/split key keyboard. The company that makes the TECK goes by the name Truly Ergonomic, and right now this is the only product they make.

Several years in the works, the main claim to fame is that the keyboard is designed from the ground up for ergonomics. To that end, they’ve ditched the traditional layout and staggered keys in order to provide an optimized layout that offers better comfort while typing, but the changes are something that will take a lot of practice typing before you can type anywhere near your regular speed. And Truly Ergonomic makes no claims to the contrary—they recommend spending days if not weeks with the keyboard before you decide whether or not you really like it, going so far as to offer a 60-day money-back guarantee. Oh, and let’s not forget that the TECK also comes with mechanical switches, specifically Cherry MX Brown switches that are generally silent compared to many of the other mechanical switches out there.

Initial impressions are shocking—if you’ve ever tried the Dvorak key layout, I don’t think this could be any more alienating. Just about every “special purpose” key that I have become accustomed to locating by instinct is now in a new location—delete, tab, backspace, and enter are in the center column, with the spacebar split around the enter key. On the left, the Shift key is moved up one row, with CTRL where Shift normally resides and the ALT key at the bottom-left where CTRL usually sits. The right side gets the same treatment, and the enter key as noted has been relocated to the middle of the spacebar. Even the main body of the keyboard with the normal seeming QWERTY layout can feel equally alien to a “formerly” touch typist at first (I find that staring at the keys a bit while typing helps a bit right now). Elsewhere, where I normally find backspace is now an equal sign, the backslash and forward-slash are at the left where tab should be, there’s an extra key in the top-left that shifts all the numbers right one key, and we haven’t even gotten to the document navigation keys. The cursor keys reside under your right hand, down from the JKL area; Home/End/PgUp/PgDn are similarly located under your left hand.

The above paragraphs are the first paragraphs I’ve tried to type on the keyboard (plus some editing after the fact) and it has taken me fully twenty minutes with nearly constant mistakes to get them out! I’m already getting a bit more competent, but when the documentation suggests taking a while to adapt, they’re not kidding around. Truth be told, the whole experience can be a bit maddening at first—if you’ve ever been frustrated to the point where you feel a bit queasy in the gut and want to quit what you’re doing and go find something else more pleasant (like maybe beating your head against a wall)…well, I’m feeling a lot of that right now! I’m mostly writing this to give me a small amount of practice before trying some speed typing tests. I don’t think that the test is going to go well the first time around, but let’s find out.

I will be taking the tests twice on the TECK: once earlier in the writing process and a second time much later. Scores are expressed as “Gross WPM/Errors=Net WPM”. I found these tests on, and I’m using three different text selections: Aesop’s Fables, Rules of Baseball, and Tigers in the Wild. And yes, these tests are hardly scientific, as typing the same text repeatedly on different keyboards can potentially skew the results. To help mitigate that, I’m serpentining through the keyboards and taking each test twice (so six tests on one keyboard). I’m starting at the top of the list with my old Microsoft Natural Elite, moving to the Rosewill RK-9100, and then finishing with the TECK before heading back up. I’m going to take each test four times and report the best result. (And for the final TECK result, I’ll revisit the test later.)

Round One Typing Test Results


Test 1

Test 2

Test 3

MS Natural Elite








TECK (30 minutes)




TECK (90 minutes)




Ouch. I am still very clearly on the early part of a rather steep learning curve, but we’re talking about overcoming roughly 25 years of muscle memory as I adapt to the layout of the TECK—yes, in case you weren’t aware, I currently hold down the fort as the old fuddy-duddy for AnandTech, having just celebrated my 20-year high school reunion last summer. Another major difficulty for me is that I shift routinely between my desktop and various laptops, and if you’ve read my laptop reviews you probably already know that I’m quite particular about keyboard layouts. Here however the TECK isn’t a slightly tweaked layout just for kicks and giggles; it’s a completely whacked out (at first) arrangement that’s designed to be more ergonomic. And honestly, even in the short time I’ve been typing this, I’m starting to think they might be on to something, but change is never easy.

You can see the results from the table above, and when I get into a sort of zone while typing with the TECK, my speed seems to be better than before and I feel less strain/discomfort. The problem is that I’m not in the zone most of the time (yet), so I’ll go really fast for a few words or maybe even a whole sentence before the wheels fall off and I start hitting “=” instead of backspace. The layout definitely feels more compact and requires less movement, and I like everything in theory, but in practice I’m still making a lot of errors. But with only 90 minutes of typing on the TECK that’s hardly surprising; I’m at least getting closer to where I was on my previous keyboards. Where will I be in a week’s time? We’ll have to wait to find out, which is why this is only a “First Imoressions” rather than the full review.

I’ll post a complete review of the keyboard once I’ve had enough time with the device to really say how much I like (or perhaps dislike) what they’ve done, but as someone that has enjoyed using an MS Natural Elite PS/2 keyboard for most of my time writing for AnandTech, there’s a lot on tap here. I’ve long heard the benefits for touch typists of mechanical keys, but until now I haven’t seen anyone doing a curved/natural/ergonomic keyboard with mechanical keys. The TECK is the first I’ve seen that’s available, and while the current $ 222 price will almost certainly make you think twice, I can tell you from personal experience that the costs of dealing with RSI, CTS, and other similar health problems are far higher than that. You’ll hear more about the TECK in a couple weeks, but for now I’m very intrigued. I’m just not sure how I’m going to go between desktops and laptops without feeling baffled for a little while if I end up sticking with the TECK!

Here’s one final parting shot to consider, taken after the rest of this article was written. I’ve now spent over two hours playing around with the TECK, and my speed and accuracy continue to improve. The worst part for me continues to be finding keys like quotes as well as accidentally reaching too far into the center keys (delete, tab, backspace) and messing things up. I’m getting better, and I can see the potential for the layout, but it will take some time….

Final Typing Test Results


Test 1

Test 2

Test 3

TECK (120 minutes)




While I try to come to grips with the TECK, I’d love to hear any suggestions on ways to better adapt to a completely different keyboard. I’m also happy to entertain requests for any specific tests you’d like me to try, or if you have questions about the unit itself I can answer those as well. Incidentally, the keyboard itself is very solidly built, with far more weight to it than the diminutive size would suggest. I actually like the weightiness, though it would be less ideal for transporting it in a backpack. The palm rest is also removable and attached securely via multiple screws, which is a great way of doing things. Aesthetically, there’s a lot I like about the TECK, which is part of the reason I was so interested in getting a review sample. The only question is how well I can type after spending some quality time with the TECK.

To be continued….

How the marine snail will help build better batteries, solar cells, and drill bits

Autore: ExtremeTech

It is often said that the success of humans as a species is due to their extensive use of tools. The wearable tools of the handyman are no doubt impressive to many of the lesser beasts. Yet these tools do not grow, self-sharpen, or morph to fit the job at hand. The rasping organ of a humble marine snail can do all of these things and more. The rasp’s teeth self-assemble the hardest known biomaterial — fiber-reinforced crystalline magnetite. Fortunately, the marine snail has been slow to file its patents and others have now jumped in to command this newly revealed tool for themselves.

As most schoolchildren are eager to tell, sharks are so flexible because they have no bone — their fibrous cartilage is never permeated through with calcium to mineralize it. The controlled deposition of single atoms or molecules has emerged as a powerful mechanism to create a desired structure on the nanoscale. The properties of a crystal compared to a less rigidly prescribed assemblage of the same material differ as sandpaper from sapphire. Solar cells, for example, made from monocrystalline material have efficiency nearly double that of polycrystalline cells, but are expensive to make.

Iron oxide, or rust, is not something that we tend to think of as a crystal. Indeed, it usually is not. Depending on things like its oxidation state, or how many electrons its oxygen atoms corral, and how it is structured, it comes in different flavors. One particular form, magnetite, gets packaged into a precision navigational organ that a bacterium can use to orient to earth’s magnetic poles. It turns out that magnetite is also tough enough to scrape through solid rock, a property that gives the marine snail access to nutritive algae.

David Kisailis, from the University of Califronia at Riverside, has figured out how the marine snail builds its rasp and is now looking to apply the technique to build better batteries, solar cells, and drill bits. A drilling head that sharpens itself overnight might save a lot of precious tungsten carbide. Solar cells that can be assembled at low temperatures — and in short order — would be a boon to the industry.


The recipe for snail magnetite would challenge any modern day synthetic chemist. The first step involves laying down a chiton matrix. Chiton comes in an endless variety of forms and is as versatile as our collagen, yet is typically much harder. Fireflies, for example, sculpt their transparent chiton shells into efficient light emitters. They have optimized both the chiton protein sequence itself and also the way it is deposited and bound. Next, an iron-bearing template material known as ferrihydrite crystal aggregates along these organic fibers like rock crystal on a string. At a critical point, a phase transition occurs and converts the ferrihydrite to magnetite, which continues to mineralize into long parallel rods as each tooth of the rasp matures.

Synthesizing a complete magnetite rasp would actually require nothing short of the full marine snail. All that we might need to be useful, though, are certain elements of the process. We can mix conditions up in the lab today and examine the results in ways that nature cannot. Then, our most powerful tool really becomes more of a meta-tool, the ability to not only mimic nature, but to mimic its selection process, and with infinitely greater speed.

Research Paper: Phase Transformations and Structural Developments in the Radular Teeth of Cryptochiton Stelleri