Google releases intelligent image analysis tools for developers

Google on Thursday launched the open beta for its Cloud Vision service, giving developers a new way to make intelligent apps that use images.  

Using Google Cloud Vision, developers can manipulate images in several ways, such as running optical character recognition to pull text out of images, or using the technology that powers Google’s SafeSearch feature to detect inappropriate images. Google launched the service in private beta last year, and it is now available for public consumption. 

In addition to making the service publicly available, Google also revealed the pricing. Developers will be able to run up to 1,000 images through Google services for free, and then pay a flat fee for each group of 1,000 images they upload after that. Developers will get discounts for sending large volumes of pictures through the service. 

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Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?

  • 15 February 2016
  • From the section Magazine

Suffragette producer Alison Owen in the Act Room, Parliamentary Archives.Image copyright
UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Image caption

The UK’s law is on scrolls. In a tower

After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

Last week the House of Lords decided to end the printing of laws on vellum for cost reasons. But now the Cabinet Office is to provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.

Vellum lasts a long time. Dig into the archives of the UK’s parliament and pull out the oldest extant law and you’ll find a very old document. It was first inscribed in 1497.

Over time, ordinary paper can deteriorate rapidly, while vellum is said to retain its integrity for much longer. Original copies of the Magna Carta, signed more than 800 years ago on vellum, still exist.

Image copyright

Image caption

The Brudenell Magna Carta, document on vellum, dated 12 October 1297

The proposed change was a move to higher-quality archival paper. But are politicians missing the point?

Sharon McMeekin, of the Digital Preservation Coalition, an advocacy and advice group for digital recordkeeping, thinks so.

“People have been bemoaning the loss of history by changing to archival paper,” she explains. “I think people are missing the point there. Truly representing the context and history in which these records were made require them to be kept in a digital format. It’s more representative of the technologies and communication methods used today.”

So why in the digital age do we keep physical records of documents at all?

There’s a simple answer, says Adrian Brown, the director of parliamentary archives, who oversees a collection including 8km-worth of physical records of parchment, paper and photographs in the 325ft tall Victoria Tower at the western edge of the Palace of Westminster.

In the tower, scrolls of vellum are piled up in a vast repository, spooled in a range of different sizes, looking superficially much as they would have done hundreds of years ago.

Image copyright

“We simply respond to the way parliament chooses to create its records,” Brown says. “In this case those are still going to be physical – though the proportion that is digital will increase over time.”

But there are other reasons, too.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

“We don’t have the ability to look back and say we know for a fact in 200 years time we’ll still have this stuff,” reasons Mitcham. “We can’t prove that fact without a time machine.”

What is vellum?

Image copyright
Wellcome Library, London

Vellum is made from calf-skin. The word shares its derivation with the word “veal” from the old French “velin” (Collins Dictionary) or “veelin” (Petit Robert).

Vellum is made by first soaking calf-skin in a lime wash, says calligrapher and illuminator Patricia Lovett. The lime causes the hair follicles to expand, making it easier to scrape fat and fur from the skin. This is done with a curved-bladed knife called a “scudder”.

The prepared skin is then washed and stretched onto a wooden frame, and scraped further with a lunar knife to raise the nap and create a more even thickness. Finally the skin is left to dry; the length of time depends on the ambient temperature, humidity and the individual qualities of the skin.

Patricia Lovett, calligrapher

Watch vellum being made on BBC 4’s Illuminations: The Private Lives of Medieval Kings

There’s an excellent example of how a digital archive can quickly run into problems.

Between 1984-86 the BBC Domesday Project engaged more than a million people from around Britain.

Children at more than 9,000 schools helped compile a statistical survey, personal thoughts and memories. The data was stored on special laserdiscs, then seen as a technology of the future.

Nearly two decades later, there were virtually no extant disc players able to read the specially formatted discs. After a lot of work, the data was made readable, but the case for digital archiving had suffered a setback.

“Examples like that imply that digital is more fragile than physical,” Mitcham laments.

Mike Tibbetts, one of the two creators of the Domesday Project, wrote in 2008 that “the fault in all this lies not in the lack of vision or foresight by the technologists but that, at least in the UK, the national systems of data preservation and heritage archiving simply don’t work reliably or consistently.”

This is the issue, according to Jenny Mitcham. Just as preserving a physical archive requires careful consideration of temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure to prevent paper from turning brittle and breaking, so digital archives need to be tended to.

“There’s certainly truth in the fact that if [a] digital [format] is neglected, it’ll become obsolete,” she says. “But if it’s brought into a digital archive, and that digital archive is well set up and knows what it’s doing, migrating and actively managing files over time, the chances those files will be readable in the future are vastly improved.”

Adrian Brown lists the difficulties in maintaining paper records – “decay, chemical changes that happen in the physical items; you’ve got insects and animal damage; the effects of temperature and light and humidity and dust. Tearing, rubbing, those kinds of issues.”

But with digital, there are different risks. “One of the things about digital information is that it’s not fundamentally human-readable,” he explains. “You need some kind of technology to turn it into something understandable. Technology as we know changes very rapidly; what you can find is your way of turning those 1s and 0s into meaningful information can be threatened if you don’t take precautions.”

Image copyright
Patricia Lovett

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Lee Mapley of William Cowley Parchment Works works on a sheet of vellum

And, as anyone who has lost beloved holiday snaps to a hard drive failure knows, IT systems are far from infallible.

“With digital, the last thing you want to do is put it somewhere and leave it alone,” Mitcham says. “There are things you need to do over time to make sure everything’s OK with it.”

Documents are migrated from one file format to another as old versions of applications become outdated. It’s also necessary to check information hasn’t been lost in the transition.

Backup copies are continuously made, and placed in different locations. Checksums, a process to make sure errors have not wormed their way into files, are run weekly.

So archives are indeed moving from pieces of paper to bits and bytes. The British Library keep a physical copy of every book, magazine and newspaper printed in the United Kingdom as part of the principle of “legal deposit”, a law which has existed since 1662.

But since 2013, electronic records of websites, blogs, CDs and electronic journals have also come under the catchment of the legal deposit law.

Advocates point out digital records have their advantages over paper documents.

Metadata associated with electronic files can give an insight into the messy creation of a work, rather than a polished final document. It’s sometimes possible to view how long someone spent typing up a record, and even to see what they changed between drafts.

And just as with 500-year-old vellum, there’s history in our hard drives, too.

“I get excited by digital archaeology,” Mitcham admits. “If you find a pile of 5¼ inch floppy disks, I get a buzz out of that. Being able to find out what’s on those discs, look through old Wordstar files, and get an idea for how computing has moved on through time, that’s fascinating.”

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Yahoo is shutting down about half of its content verticals

Yahoo is shutting down a number of its content verticals, Yahoo global editor in chief Martha Nelson confirmed on Wednesday.

“On our recent earnings call, Yahoo outlined out a plan to simplify our business and focus our effort on our four most successful content areas  – News, Sports, Finance and Lifestyle. To that end, today we will begin phasing out the following Digital Magazines:  Yahoo Food, Yahoo Health, Yahoo Parenting, Yahoo Makers, Yahoo Travel, Yahoo Autos and Yahoo Real Estate,” Nelson wrote in a Tumblr post.

In addition, a source familiar with the matter said that Yahoo was ending its tech vertical and moving some of its staff — including former New York Times columnist David Pogue — to Yahoo’s news vertical. Eater first reported that the food vertical was being shut down and Skift first reported that the travel vertical was being shut down. Re/code also reports that the beauty vertical is being axed. In addition, Silicon Beat reports that Yahoo chief scientist Ron Brachman and V.P. of research Ricardo Baeza-Yates are leaving the company.

As part of the changes, Yahoo Tech editor in chief Dan Tynan is being laid off. Tynan, who joined Yahoo Tech as a columnist in December 2013 and became editor in chief of the vertical in July 2015, announced his departure in a farewell memo to staff.

“Well, that was not entirely unexpected. Eight Hundred and Four days after taking the purple, my career as a Yahoo is over,” he wrote.

Despite the fact that Tynan is leaving and Yahoo Tech staff are moving to Yahoo News, a Yahoo spokeswoman said that Yahoo Tech — as well as Yahoo’s verticals for music, beauty, style, celebrity, TV, and movies — were unaffected by the changes announced on Wednesday.

Read Nelson’s full Tumblr post announcing the changes below:

On our recent earnings call, Yahoo outlined out a plan to simplify our business and focus our effort on our four most successful content areas  – News, Sports, Finance and Lifestyle. To that end, today we will begin phasing out the following Digital Magazines:  Yahoo Food, Yahoo Health, Yahoo Parenting, Yahoo Makers, Yahoo Travel, Yahoo Autos and Yahoo Real Estate.

As we make these changes, we acknowledge the talent and dedication of an extraordinary group of journalists who brought new and newsworthy content to Yahoo. While these Digital Magazines will no longer be published, you will continue to find the topics they covered, as well as style, celebrity, entertainment, politics, tech and much more across our network.  

We know you come to Yahoo because of our distinct voice and unique blend of original content, aggregation and personalization.  With a renewed focus on News, Sports, Finance and Lifestyle, we will be working to make Yahoo an even more essential part of your life.

Read Tynan’s full memo below:

Well, that was not entirely unexpected. Eight Hundred and Four days after taking the purple, my career as a Yahoo is over.

During the past 2+ years I have had the honor and privilege of working with the best (and smallest) staff of any tech publication on the Internet. Despite an enormous set of challenges (most of them internal) they still managed to produce some of the smartest, funniest, most original tech coverage on the Web. I could not be more proud.

Before I head off into the sunset, some thanks are in order.

David Pogue is one of a kind – the most gifted tech reviewer on the planet, and easily the most entertaining. He has been extremely generous to me over the past two years, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Dan Howley is without a doubt the hardest working man in tech, as well as possibly the goofiest. I will miss his enthusiasm, loyalty, and willingness to do whatever it took to make an article or a video the best it could be.

Dan Bean has been the Draymond Green of our team. He has singlehandedly kept our site going, from managing our partner content and handling social duties to chasing memes and starring in a series of highly amusing videos with Howley. I hope that tradition continues.

I could not have survived my time as EiC without the steady guidance, editorial craftsmanship, and wise counsel of Dan Miller.

Despite his obvious handicap (not being named Dan), Ben Silverman is one of the finest writers I’ve ever encountered, as well as one of the nicest, funniest people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. I wish him luck in his future eSporting endeavors.

Rob Pegoraro is the consummate freelancer; if Yahoo Tech had a 5th Beatle, it would be Rob. He is a versatile writer and extremely professional; please hire him.

I knew nothing about producing high-quality video before I came to Yahoo Tech; Lainie Frost, Emily Scharnhorst, and Calen Cooper taught me a tremendous amount in a very short time. Thank you for that.

I’d also like to acknowledge those who helped create Yahoo Tech but have moved on to better things: Deb Amlen, Rob Walker, Jason Gilbert, Rafe Needleman, Alyssa Bereznak, Gordon Cameron, Lainie, Adrienne Vogt, and Peter Gorenstein.

I have to give a shout out to Susan Kittenplan, Lori Bongiorno, and Brian Wallace, a trio whose seemingly boundless patience in the face of unrestrained lunacy is truly awe inspiring. I regret not having the opportunity to work more closely with Martha Nelson; I am sure I could have learned a great deal from her.

I am sure that bigger and better things await all of us. As for Yahoo, I am sure it will continue to be Yahoo, for better or worse. And some day we’ll all have a good laugh about it. Just not this week.

I like to maintain contact with people I’ve worked with, so feel free to contact me and connect with me on LinkedIn.

See you in the funny papers.

Dan Tynan

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Google and Red Hat announce cloud-based scalable file servers

Google Cloud Platform brings you lots of ways to store, access and archive your data, including Google Cloud Storage, DataStore and BigQuery. In some cases, there’s a need to be able to access a POSIX compatible shared file system across a fleet of your cloud instances. To support these use cases with a robust scale out and scale up solution, Google Cloud Platform and Red Hat are proud to announce the availability of Red Hat Gluster Storage on Google Compute Engine.

Red Hat Gluster Storage offers a highly available and fault tolerant shared file system that can scale vertically and horizontally. Red Hat Gluster Storage makes use of compute instances with disks attached in order to provide a distributed, scale-out file system. Users of Red Hat Gluster Storage on GCE can take advantage of the performance, scalability and flexibility of our Persistent Disks.

Disks used for your Red Hat Gluster Storage installation can be chosen based on various performance and cost tradeoffs. For example, you can choose to use standard Persistent Disks for data that does not require high I/O throughput or use the more performant SSD Persistent Disks for your IOPS hungry workloads, such as media rendering. Each node in your cluster can leverage disks of up to 64TB in size and with up to 15,000 IOPS.

In order to protect mission critical data, Red Hat Gluster Storage enables users to synchronously replicate their files across multiple zones in the same region while at the same time asynchronously replicating them to a separate region for disaster recovery. In the example architecture below, we’re using us-east1-b as our primary zone with a hot standby in us-east1-c:

– Posted by Vic Iglesias, Cloud Solutions Architect

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Windows clone ReactOS hits version 0.4.0


It’s been ten long years since the last major release, but open source Windows clone ReactOS is still very much alive, and the latest release shows just what’s been achieved since 2006.

There’s finally support for NTFS read and ext2 read/ write, out of the box.

Hardware improvements include SATA support, a working USB stack, and — gasp — sound.

Networking has also come a long way, with wireless networking and SSL support.

A new shell adds a lot of functionality, and should be much more reliable.

There’s also some 3D graphic support, the ability to properly load graphics drivers, an updated memory manager, a much more compatible Registry implementation, and — maybe most useful of all — an NT Virtual DOS Machine (NTVDM) for running 16-bit DOS applications, including old games.

Does it work? Well, we grabbed an installation CD, and had ReactOS running under VirtualBox within minutes, no hassles at all.

If you’ve not tried ReactOS before, the Applications Manager is a major plus, enabling a host of popular packages to be downloaded and installed immediately: Firefox, Opera, OpenOffice, GIMP, VLC Media Player, IrfanView, various torrent clients, VNC tools and a whole lot more.

We double-clicked Firefox and watched as it was downloaded and automatically installed: neat.

But then, when we started using Firefox, problems quickly appeared, with the browser window not always rendering correctly. Maybe it was something specific to us, our settings, graphics driver, or VirtualBox, but most people won’t want to spend an age trying to find out.

Overall, ReactOS is still very much an alpha release, and not for most users. If you just want a free operating system that’s easy to use, try Linux Mint. The interface is familiar and with Wine installed, you’ll be able to run quite a few Windows applications.

But if you’re a Windows geek, understand the technical challenges here, maybe have an ancient laptop you’d like to revive or some legacy programs to revisit, ReactOS offers plenty to explore.

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Skype introduces free group video calling across iOS and Android

Skype announced Thursday that iOS and Android users in the U.S. and Western Europe can expect to start making group video calls from their smartphones and tablets in the coming week. 

The feature will allow users to hold conversations with up to 25 people at once. Skype designed two new views for group video conferences: The first allows users to see one another in a grid, and it’s designed for calls with a handful of people. A second active speaker view shows a big picture of the person talking by default, along with a small, scrollable row of other participants. 

In that view, users can also “pin” someone, so they can always see a large view of the most important person in the conversation for them. Users can change who they’ve pinned during the call, or remove the pin and go back to Skype’s default mode of primarily showing the person talking. 

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IBM Blockchain announcement

Arvind Krishna|December 17, 2015

How Blockchain Will Transform Business and Society

Today, the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, is announcing an open source project to fulfill the tremendous potential of blockchain.

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IBM introduces Blockchain-as-a-service

IBM logo

IBM is looking to move blockchain technology beyond Bitcoin and money transfer as it announced Blockchain-as-a-service on Tuesday.

Blockchain-as-a-service allows developers to “create digital assets and accompanying business logic to more securely and privately transfer assets among members of a permissioned blockchain test network”.

The best part of it all is that it’s free — 44,000 lines of code are available on GitHub to developers everywhere. Blockchain technology is an online public ledger where you can log pretty much any kind of transaction. Being decentralized, and allowing all parties to double-check the transfers, in theory it could reduce errors or misuse.

“London Stock Exchange Group is directly engaged in the development of the open blockchain technologies with IBM and we are excited to help enable the creation of solutions that will help manage risk and bring additional transparency to global financial markets”, said Moiz Kohari, EVP, group head of technology innovation, London Stock Exchange Group. “We believe this technology has the potential to drive change across the industry but will need to be developed in partnership with customers and industry participants under an open source approach”.

In order to speed things up, IBM has opened up what it calls IBM Garages — places where developers and IBM experts can collaborate on the design and implementation of blockchain for business. The IBM Garages will open up in London, New York, Singapore and Tokyo.

“In just a few short months, IBM’s vision for making blockchain a powerful new business solution across multiple industries is becoming a reality as our clients begin piloting innovative new code, services and z Systems optimized for distributed ledgers”, said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President, IBM Research. “These advancements are making it easier for developers to move from understanding the potential of blockchain, to actually using it to change their business processes in powerful new ways”.

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock

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