Four short links: 1 May 2017

DPRK's Tablet, Idea Scarcity, d3.express, and Apple-Picking Robots

By Nat Torkington
May 1, 2017
Four short links.
  1. North Korea’s User-Surveilling TabletIt records the time and computer [ID] into a file each time it is opened. So, if a file is shared from person to person, someone in possession of the final copy can examine the watermarking data to determine how it spread from person to person. On a mass scale, this data can be used to plot entire social networks of people. And app lockdowns and screenshots every time you open an app. “This basically finishes all of your efforts to be a normal user in the DPRK,” he said. “It’s virtual[ly] impossible.” It’s worth pointing out that this is basically the mobile device management software that schools install on their Chromebooks and tablets, only DPRK at least has the decency to let the user see the screenshots that the state can see.
  2. Are Good Ideas Getting Harder to Find? (PDF) — Across a broad range of case studies at various levels of (dis)aggregation, we find that ideas—and in particular, the exponential growth they imply—are getting harder and harder to find. Exponential growth results from the large increases in research effort that offset its declining productivity. […] In addition to Moore’s Law, our case studies include agricultural productivity (corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat) and medical innovations. Idea TFP [total factor productivity] for seed yields declines at about 5% per year. We find a similar rate of decline when studying the mortality improvements associated with cancer and heart disease.
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  4. Teasing d3.express — Mike Bostock really took Bret Victor’s ideas on board and is building a reactive REPL for building d3 visualizations, with UI elements and introspection. Not released yet.
  5. Apple-Picking Robotsfor the machines to work, apples and other crops must be grown in new trellis systems that allow robots to see and harvest the fruit, she said. “We are evolving the tree architecture and apple placement to be compatible with robotics,” Lewis said, a process called “robot-ready.”
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