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Tesla’s electric Model X adds sexy to the minivan


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

Tesla Model X

When one thinks of Tesla, they think of high-end electric vehicle performance. The company is known for putting out some of the best-performing, visually stunning vehicles available in the market. Now, Tesla is going for the family market with a minivan that goes 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

According to CEO Elon Musk, there’s a market for the fastest minivan in the world, one that’s faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera… and that’s not even the performance version.

“With the Model X we’re addressing the rest of the SUV market and the minivan market,” Musk said in an interview with GigaOM. “We think there’s a huge market for anyone interested in a minivan or an SUV and actually wants more functionality, more style, and more performance – this is going to be the best product by far.”

Should Toyota or Honda dealers be worried? Probably not. With a price tag of around $50,000, it’s a notch above the competition. “Range will be a factor for potential buyers,” said Everett Davis at Pensacola Honda. “There won’t be enough made to make a dent in Odyssey sales.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Yelp users are easier to spot than most


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

Yelp

There are definite distinctions between users of various social sites. They’re often easy to spot based upon their look (Tumblr), activities (FourSquare), and attitude (Pinterest), but the combination of the three can help us identify Yelp users very easily.

Our friends at Flowtown take a humorous look at the Yelp phenomenon and the people who drive it. Reviews are important for businesses so the ability to spot a Yelp user as they’re walking in the door can be the best defense against negative comments that can haunt a business for years.

Click to enlarge.

Yelp Users

(H/T: Peoria Chevrolet Dealer)

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Using technology to learn more efficiently


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

It’s a problem that students have dealt with for generations. How do I best study and retain information in an efficient and timely manner?  The pressure to acquire specific knowledge within a given timeframe can be overwhelming. Traditional methods such as cramming and memorization through the use of flashcards are often employed, but these “old standards” are accompanied by some serious shortcomings.

That’s where a company called Course Hero wants to help. They have devised a program using established study techniques paired with a technology based system that enables students to learn more effectively. This unique method involves digital flashcards and a program called Optimal Learn, an online productivity tracker that helps students focus and stick to a study schedule.

While traditional flashcards are one of the simplest and most effective study tools, they take a substantial amount of time and materials to create. Digitizing flashcards was the first step Course Hero took in improving the old school learning model.  Available online, students have the option of using an existing set of flashcards or ones they have prepared on their own. These digitized “knowledge bites” are simple to create and can be fine-tuned to help students condense and simplify information so that they absorb the important facts quickly.

Another flaw with the old method is the difficultly to gauge just how much information is actually being retained.  Thanks to the very human tendency to sneak a look at an answer and the lack of accountability when self-testing, the amount of information actually being processed can easily be overestimated. To counter this, Course Hero offers flashcards quizzes. These online mini-tests allow students to periodically assess their knowledge and provide a realistic sense of their retention level.

It’s crunch time and you haven’t put in nearly the amount of effort that you planned to when starting out. Probably the most difficult challenge students need to overcome in order to study effectively is the self-discipline needed to stick to a regimented schedule. Even with the best intentions, students often wait until the last minute, desperately cramming bits of information in a bid to pass an exam.  This method of learning is inefficient and counterproductive. Often students are so exhausted from a late night of forced study, they are less alert and focused while taking the test the next day.

To combat this, Course Hero created Optimal Learn, a technology based system of scheduled learning.  This program works in conjunction with Course Hero Flashcards to not only optimize retention after a flashcard study session, but also help students stick to a productive study schedule.  The process is simple. Working from an established set of flashcards or ones they have created to suit their needs, students select a specific date by which studying needs to be completed . Optimal Learn then creates a program specific to the desired timeline and the amount of information that needs to be retained.

Once a deadline has been established, the program emphasizes spaced repetition and takes advantage of natural memory cycles by reminding students to study at the key intervals that maximize retention. Each study session follows a unique format that alternates between review segments and mini-quizzes that track the student’s level of mastery as they learn. To keep the process on track, students receive regular email notifications on their progress as well as reminders to study the next round of new content or review a previously studied session. This process ensures that students feel as confident with the material as possible by their deadline.

This combination of digitized flashcards, online quizzes and scheduled study time is an immensely powerful learning tool, and an exciting example of how technology can make the learning process more efficient and effective.

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Web Developers Sound Off on WebKit Prefixes


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.com

Yesterday we told you about a disturbance in the web standards force, a supposed rash of websites that work in one and only one web browser. Instead of writing code that will work in any browser many developers are coding exclusively for WebKit, the engine that powers Safari, Chrome, iOS and Android web browsers.

The problem is bad enough that on Monday at the CSS Working Group meeting, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera announced that each are planning to add support for some -webkit prefixed CSS properties. In other words, because web developers are using only the -webkit prefix, other browsers must either add support for -webkit or risk being seen as less capable browsers even when they aren’t.

We aren’t the only ones who think that spells disaster not just for web standards but for the long-term viability of the open web. In fact the response from the web community has all but drowned out everything else in our RSS and Twitter feeds.

Here’s our round-up of what’s being proposed, what it might mean for the web and how we might go about solving the problem:

First and foremost read the minutes from the CSS Work Group meeting, which is where all of this started. The legend for the names is at the top of the page, though you’ll need to scroll about half way down to get to the actual meat of the discussion.

The second must-read post on vendor prefixes comes from CSS Working Group Co-Chair Daniel Glazman who calls on other browser makers to not implement the -webkit prefix and asks developers to make the extra effort to build cross-browser apps. Glazman has since followed up that piece with two more, one clarifying the original post and one defending the CSS Working Group against those who argue that the reason prefixes exist is because the standards process is too slow. If you believe that the CSS spec moves to slowly, this post is well worth a read (spoiler alert: it’s typically browser makers arguing, not the standards process, that creates the hold up on new features).

Remy Sharp of HTML5Doctor fame, weighs in with a series of rough ideas, neatly summarizing the issue and looking at it from both sides. In the end Sharp seems to conclude that just about everyone is to blame, from the browsers to the working group to developers.

Rachel Andrew of the web standards project generally agrees with Glazman writing, “once again we run the risk of having sites built only for one platform, and [will] find it very hard to get that platform to go away if things move on.”

The ever-humorous Bruce Lawson, who works as a web standards evangelist at Opera Software, writes: “Personally — PERSONALLY — I’m pretty depressed about all this. I’ve spent 10 years — pretty much since IE6 came out — evangelizing cross-browser, accessible, standards-based sites. As a development community we chased the Shiny and we caused IE6 to linger around like a vindaloo fart in a windowless loo. And now we’re doing the same again.”

Over at Quirksblog mobile expert Peter-Paul Koch argues that vendor prefixes are just plain wrong: “Vendor prefixes are the most developer-hostile solution imaginable. The vendor prefix idea was flawed from the start by putting the full brunt of namespace management on web developers.” He goes on to propose an interesting idea of vendor-neutral prefixes like -alpha and -beta for experimental features.

Aaron Gustafson, a member of the Web Standards Project, has started a petition to ask Mozilla, Microsoft and Opera to not implement -webkit. Gustafson also has a one-line bash script you can use to search your code for any instances of the -webkit prefix so you can double check to make sure you’re supporting other browsers as well.

Mozilla developer Christian Heilman believes that “this mess has partly been created by developers, the least we can do is help fix it.” To that end Heilmann’s Pre-fix the web project is looking for developers willing to seek out projects on Github that only work in Webkit and then fork the project, adding the missing prefixes to the CSS, extending JS code to do proper feature detection and then sending a pull request. In other words, literally fixing the web.

JavaScript developer Peter van der Zee has some other possible solutions: “Either we strongly limit the life span or availability of the prefix by making them only available in beta versions of a browser. Or we force other vendors to pick up on the slack by giving them a certain time to come up with their own implementation of a certain feature, or forfeit that possibility after a certain amount of time.”

Finally, if you read through the CSS WG notes you’ll notice that Tantek Çelik cites developer Lea Verou as an example of web developers who use just the -webkit prefix. In fact that’s completely untrue and Çelik has since corrected his statement. Verou has long advocated using all prefixes and even created prefixfree to help automate the process.

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WebKit Isn’t Breaking the Web. You Are


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »
WebKit may seem like the only game in town, but it’s not. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired.com

It sounds like something from a galaxy far, far away, but in truth it was not that long ago that the web was littered with sites that proudly proclaimed “works best in Internet Explorer.” Thankfully those days are over. IE6 no longer dominates the web.

But, while IE6 may be a thing of the past, the root problem — websites that work in one and only one web browser — sadly, remains.

This time the culprit is WebKit, the rendering engine that powers the browsers on the iPhone, iPad and Android phones. But what’s different about this round of monoculture is that, unlike IE 6, the WebKit developers haven’t done anything wrong. It’s web developers that have created the WebKit-only web.

Instead of writing code that will work in any browser, which might mean adding an extra three lines of code to their CSS rules, some of even the largest sites on the web are coding exclusively for WebKit.

The problem is bad enough that on Monday at the CSS Working Group meeting, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera announced that each are planning to add support for some -webkit prefixed CSS properties. In other words, because web developers are using only the -webkit prefix, other browsers must either add support for -webkit or risk being seen as less capable browsers even when they aren’t.

The danger is that if other browsers implement -webkit prefixes then the entire CSS standards effort will be broken. Instead of coding against a single CSS specification developers will need to code against changing vendor prefixes. As CSS Working Group co-chair, Daniel Glazman, says, “I don’t think this is the right way. And this is the first time in this WG that we are proposing to do things that are not the right way.”

Vendor prefixes like -webkit and -moz were designed to help web developers by allowing browser makers to implement CSS features before the official standard was published. Prefixes were intended to help speed up the process of adding new features to the web and, used properly, they have worked. Unfortunately they’ve also been widely abused.

WebKit is currently the dominant mobile browser in the mind of most web developers (that Opera is actually the single most widely used mobile browser). But even the perceived dominance of WebKit is not the real problem. The problem is — just as it was last time — that web developers are developing exclusively for WebKit.

To be clear, Firefox, IE and Opera also support these features. In most cases, the -webkit properties being used have -moz, -ms and -o prefix equivalents for use in the respective browsers. Popular CSS 3 features like border-radius, transforms, gradients and animations work in all modern browsers. Developers simply need to add those three additional lines of code to make their websites compatible with Firefox, IE and Opera. But they aren’t doing that.

That the problem lies with web developers, not the browsers, led Glazman, to put out a call for action, asking web developers to “stop designing web sites for WebKit only, in particular when adding support for other browsers is only a matter of adding a few extra prefixed CSS properties.”

Neither Glazman, nor anyone else is suggesting that Apple and Google should stop innovating or stop implementing new features as fast as they can. As Tantek Çelik, a Mozilla representative in the CSS WG, says in the minutes of Monday’s meeting, “I think it’s great that Apple wants to innovate as fast as they can…. I don’t want Apple to slow down in innovation and implementing new things. That helps the Web grow and innovate.”

At the same time both Apple and Google have set some bad examples by building a number of WebKit-only demos that might be part of what lead some developers to conclude that only WebKit supports such features. That has also spilled over into the world of tutorials where even sometimes even standards advocates showcase -webkit in their sample code while ignoring -moz-, -ms- and -o-*.

What makes the current -webkit-only epidemic all the more depressing is how easy it is to solve — just use prefixes they way they were intended. Thanks to modern toolkits you don’t even need to write any extra code. Preprocessors like SASS and LESS make it easy to output five lines of prefixed code with a single mixin. Not a fan or SASS or LESS? No problem, just use cssprefixer, which parses your CSS and adds any prefixes you need before you publish it to the web (there’s also a client-side auto-prefixing solution if you prefer).

That’s fine for your website, but what about all the rest of those top 30,000 sites you don’t control? Well, you could email the developers, let them know that their site isn’t working in the most popular mobile web browser; let them know that you can’t use their service. If you’re a programmer or web developer you can help out with Mozilla developer Christian Hellman’s effort to Pre-fix the web. Pre-fix the web is looking for developers willing to seek out projects on Github that only work in Webkit and then fork the project, adding the missing prefixes to the CSS, extending JS code to do proper feature detection and then sending a pull request. In other words, literally fixing the web.

We at Webmonkey hope it’s obvious that building WebKit-only sites is a waste of time. If you’re only interested in iOS users then take a tip from Instagram and build a native app. As Peter Linss, Hewlett-Packard’s CSS WG representative says the CSS WG minutes, “there’s no advantage to the Web to have someone write a platform-specific website.” There’s also no real advantage for the developer, especially when an automated prefixer can do all the work for you. If you want your site to embrace the web, take the time to learn the craft and embrace all of the web. Be good at what you do and do it right.

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Chrome 17 Released, Will Preload Autocompleted URLs as You Type


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

Google has just released Chrome version 17, which brings several minor enhancements to the company’s web browser — including a new web address preloading feature and improved protection against malicious downloads.

The new Chrome introduces a “preemptive rendering” feature that will automatically begin loading and rendering a page in the background while the user is typing the address in the omnibox (the combined address and search text entry field in Chrome’s navigation toolbar). The preloading will occur in cases when the top match generated by the omnibox’s autocompletion functionality is a site that the user visits frequently.

When the user hits the enter key and confirms the autocompletion result, the pre-rendered page will display almost instantly. The feature extends Chrome’s existing predictive page loading functionality to autocompletion results. Unlike Chrome’s instant search capability, however, the autocompletion preloading waits until the user hits the enter key before displaying the rendered page.

Google has also added some new security functionality to Chrome. Every time that the user downloads a file, the browser will compare it against a whitelist of known-good files and publishers. If the file isn’t in the whitelist, its URL will be transmitted to Google’s servers, which will perform an automatic analysis and attempt to guess if the file is malicious based on various factors like the trustworthiness of its source. If the file is deemed a potential risk, the user will receive a warning.

Google says that data collected by the browser for the malware detection feature is only used to flag malicious files and isn’t used for any other purpose. The company will retain the IP address of the user and other metadata for a period of two weeks, at which point all of the data except the URL of the file will be purged from Google’s databases.

Users who are concerned about the privacy implications of this functionality can prevent the browser from relaying this information to Google by disabling the phishing and malware protection features in the browser’s preferences. You can refer to the official Chromium blog for additional details about the malware detection feature.

Chrome 17 is available through the browser’s automatic updater and can also be downloaded from Google’s website. More information about the new release is available in the official Google Chrome blog.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

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Let’s Make Mead: The Ancient Berserker Crunk-Juice of Kings


Posted February 10th, 2012 by admin No Comments »

Click here to read Let's Make Mead: The Ancient Berserker Crunk-Juice of Kings

Mead is almost certainly the first beverage that got humans drunk (sorry, beer). It predates wine by ten to thirty thousand years. Hell, it predates the cultivation of soil. Best of all, you only need three common ingredients to whip up a batch. So let’s do that. More »

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