Monthly Archives: July 2019

Computer cashes in big at Texas Hold ‘Em tourney

admin | 08/07/2019 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

One of the proving grounds for artificial intelligence is games. Classic games have a fixed set of rules, and these make it easier for researchers to develop new techniques and algorithms that enable computers to play (and hopefully win) various games. Tic-tac-toe, checkers, and chess are all games where researchers have developed software that is capable of winning or drawing when paired off against the best human players in the world. Last weekend, researchers at the University of Alberta added another classic game to this list: poker. In a series of matches that took place over the Fourth of July weekend in Las Vegas, the researchers' Polaris poker program won against a groupof top-ranked online poker players. 苏州美甲

The first three games mentioned above are known as perfect information games. In games of this type, each player has all the available knowledge about the current state of the game. With that information, the player can, in theory, work out every possible outcome from that point. Given a computer's ability to evaluate hundreds of thousands (or more) of scenarios each second, they are an ideal tool for calculating probabilities in such games. Theoretically, with enough computing power, every possible outcome at each point in the game could be calculated, and a computer could never lose.

Poker, on the other hand, is not a perfect information game. Each player has a limited subset of the total information regarding the current state of the game. In Texas Hold 'Em, the poker variation played here, players are aware of the two cards they hold, plus the cards that are open to all on the table. But, critically, they do knot know what their opponents hold in their hands. Each action must be based on this limited amount of information. According to Prof. Bowling, the principal investigator on the Polaris project, "when you look at games where players are asked to make decisions with different amounts of information, missing information, poker is the quintessential game."

This was the second year that the Polaris software went head-to-head, so to speak, with human players. Last year, in a series of four matches, human players Phil Laak and Ali Eslami edged out Polaris 2-1-1. Over the course of the year, the researchers fine-tuned Polaris by improving its learning capability. The new Polaris was capable of identifying opponents' playing styles and could adapt by countering with a strategy that would be expected to give it the edge. To practice, the researchers said Polaris played eight billion games of poker against itself.

This year, Polaris again played four matches and, thanks to these improvements, it came out ahead. Each match consisted of 500 hands of poker. In the first of four matches, Polaris and the human players wound up in a draw. The second match ended with the human players up by $50,000. The third and fourth matches were decisive wins for Polaris—it won the two matches by ending up with nearly $150,000. While Polaris won, it is still not unbeatable, as shown by the first match. According to Bowling, though, given enough computational power, a computer could play perfectly. That would inevitably lead to a win, since people could be counted on to make mistakes.

With the win under their belt, the researchers are headed back to the lab—or cube—to code some new abilities for the Polaris system. Currently, it is limited to playing against two players and to playing a game of poker where the maximum bet is capped. The researchers hope to enable it to start playing more advanced versions of poker, such as the very popular no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. They also hope to extend this line of work into more real-world problems. "In general, problems in the real world are going to be more like poker than chess. You're not always going to have all the information," said Bowling.

Category: 苏州美甲

The Second Coming: Ars goes in-depth with the iPhone 3G

admin | | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

iPhone Parousia

iPhone 3G
Manufacturer: Apple (product page)
System requirements: Macintosh computer running Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later, USB 2.0 port, iTunes 7.7; Windows PC running Windows Vista or Windows XP SP2, USB 2.0 port, iTunes 7.7
Price: US$199 (8GB), US$299 (16GB) with new two-year contract in the US, $399/$499 unsubsidized for existing AT&T users. Worldwide prices vary depending on country and carrier. 苏州美甲

Buzz about the next version of the iPhone began before even the original iPhone was released just over a year ago. Although the EDGE-capable "2G" iPhone ended up being a smash success during its one-year reign, critics wanted a 3G version from the very beginning. And so Apple giveth. Even though the iPhone 3G may not seem much different than its predecessor to the average person on the street, that didn't stop the Apple RDF from permeating excited customers' brains as iPhone Launch Day 2.0 drew near.

Unfortunately, most of us know what happened on Launch Day 2.0. Activation woes galore turned what could have been a hype-worthy day that surpassed the original iPhone launch into a headache for pretty much everyone involved—and not just in the US, but across the entire world. Whether this affected Apple's first-day sales in any significant way we will probably never know. However, launch day is just one day, and things appear to have smoothed out since then. Customers lined up down and around the block for days in a row after the launch, making the iPhone 3G launch apparently far more successful than the original iPhone's launch.

In this review, we take a long, hard look at the iPhone 3G, both as a consumer device and as an enterprise device. After all, part of the appeal of the new device is that a number of software improvements have finally made it enterprise-ready, or so claims Apple's marketing. From a business user's point of view, however, if you think that the iPhone is a drop-in BlackBerry replacement, think again.

Unboxing and accessories

The iPhone 3G's box is nearly identical to the iPhone 2G's box in every possible way. Every dimension and every color, down to the way the top slides off of the bottom to reveal the iPhone laying on top of a packet containing the microfiber cloth and documentation, which in turn lifts off to reveal the accessories—it's all the same, except for the "3G" printed on the side of the box.

Contained within the accessory reservoir are a pair of iPhone headphones, an iPhone/iPod USB cord, and a USB-compatible power brick.

Faithful readers may remember our observations from last year, when we snapped a photo of the accessories included with the original iPhone (which included all of the above, plus a dock). "[T]his many accessories may or may not continue to come included in the box as future iPhone generations get released. As one commenter aptly observed in the discussion about Infinite Loop's iPhone unboxing photos, 'Look at all those accessories. I can't wait for the 3rd or so generation iPhone that comes with a phone and a cable.'" It certainly looks as if Apple has begun down the path of fewer included accessories with the iPhone 3G. Sometimes, it just sucks to be right.

If you want a dock for your iPhone 3G (which we, personally, consider important to us), then you'll either have to buy an iPhone 3G dock separately from Apple for $29, or buy the $9 iPhone 3G Universal Dock adapter (for use with your Apple Universal Dock, if you have one).

Meet the new iPhone, same as the old iPhone

The iPhone 3G is available in 8GB and 16GB form, and with either black or white backings (the front is black for everyone). Only the 16GB version is available in both black and white, while the 8GB version is only available in black. We have had many people ask us what our opinions are on white versus black (although it appears that the masses, in general, prefer black). Black seems to look slicker overall, but it's extremely finger-printy and it displays imperfections (smudges and scratches) much more than white does. White might get a little dirty, but, just as was the case with the old black and white plastic iPods, white tends to hide imperfections better. Ultimately, this choice comes down to personal preference.

The iPhone 3G is 4.5 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.48 inches thick with a 3.5 inch (diagonal) screen—almost exactly identical to the old iPhone, which was 0.46 inches thick. However, the difference in thickness is practically invisible, thanks to Apple's slight refinement of the shape of the back casing. The back side of the iPhone now tapers towards the edges of the device, making it seem thinner in the hand than the old iPhone despite its extra thickness. Maybe the old iPhone is just big-boned.

EDGE iPhone on the left, iPhone 3G on the right

As you can see, the back of the new iPhone is also now plastic instead of metal. This change shaves 0.1 ounces off the weight of the device, to 4.7 ounces, which is surprisingly noticeable when holding the iPhone. Even though the weight difference from the original iPhone seems noticeable, the device still feels good to hold and pocket, and it doesn't feel cheap or empty. And, although it's still heftier than some competitors—like the Motorola Q, which weighs in at 4.0 ounces, and the BlackBerry Pearl at 3.2 ounces—the weight is once again considered a non-issue by all of the Ars Technica reviewers. Speaking of the BlackBerry Pearl, here are a couple of size comparison photos:

There are other, very minor differences in the iPhone 3G's accessories compared to the original set. Apple changed the shape and reduced the size of the miniature power brick that comes with the iPhone, making it not quite so smooth, but definitely more compact.

New on the left, old on the right

New power plug on top

The iPhone headphones have also pretty much stayed the same. They are still a slightly modified version of iPod headphones, except with a built-in speaker/clicker on the cord to the right earbud so that you can hold phone conversations over the headphones and control your music. After spending roughly the past year using this functionality built into our iPhone headphones, we find it hard to function without them. The iPhone 3G's headphones, however, gain about one inch in length from the old iPhone's headphones:

Of course, there are some third-party headphone solutions if you're interested in a different audio experience than the one Apple offers while still preserving the clicking and audio-in features. We tested out a pair of Skullcandy iPhone headphones at Macworld 2008, for example, and found them to offer better audio quality than Apple's. We'll speak more about audio quality on the iPhone 3G later in the review.

Category: 苏州美甲

Report: security issues keep IMing out of UK businesses

admin | | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Instant messaging may have become nearly ubiquitous across the web since ICQ first launched in 1996, but a new report from IM research company ProcessOne suggests that the vast majority of UK businesses—72 percent—have deliberately chosen not to use publicly available IM services from the likes of AIM, Yahoo, MSN, or Gtalk. The programs' potential usefulness is not in question, given that 74 percent of the same test group believes that IM software could facilitate intracompany collaboration, but any company that wishes to use an IM client faces a myriad of security and data retention concerns that many UK companies are ill-equipped or simply unwilling to tackle. 苏州美甲

Government regulations in the UK (and in the US, for that matter), require companies to retain a record of all electronic communications, including both instant and text messages. Saving IM conversations isn't difficult—most, if not all, personal IM clients already offer the option to maintain logs—but centralizing and archiving the various (unaltered) conversations of dozens or hundreds of employees could quickly become an administrative nightmare. Most of the popular personal IM clients, including those with professional versions (AIM, Gtalk), avoid positioning themselves as full corporate solutions.

The enterprise instant messaging (EIM) market is officially served by a separate set of products, including Microsoft's Office Communicator, IBM's Lotus Sametime, and the open-source Jabber Extensible Communications Platform. These products offer an IM service that's oriented towards corporate needs, and can be configured to store and archive conversations in order to maintain regulatory legal compliance. Some of the various EIM products are also capable of interfacing with each other or with some personal IM clients.

The extremely high percentage of UK businesses that have officially banned IM programs based on security concerns suggests that the current crop of enterprise instant messaging software has yet to address the concerns of the group meant to form its core constituency. The strength of the correlation, however, is unclear. The ready availability of free personal IM alternatives, combined with security protocols that are rather more lax in reality than they are on paper, could easily lead to situations where personnel who might normally push for a corporate IM client have already finagled their own solution—sometimes with tacit permission, sometimes without. ProcessOne also notes that some corporations have cited perceived difficulties in persuading employees to use the new EIM product as opposed to a standard personal messenger as reasons for not adopting a corporate IM product.

Research has shown that a properly managed IM environment can significantly improve worker productivity by reducing the number and scope of interruptions most employees deal with on a daily basis. It's also a technology many employees are familiar with, and are comfortable using. Despite potential productivity gains, however, most companies are erring on the side of caution when it comes to formally deploying any type of IM product, be it personal or enterprise. The benefits, however tantalizing, have yet to outweigh the very real risks.

Category: 苏州美甲

Protectionist trade law used to settle domestic patent tiffs

admin | | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Companies looking for a competitive edge over their rivals have in recent years been making use of a loophole found in US patent law. Normally, Company A will allege that Company B is importing a product that infringes its patent, at which point a court battle ensues, lawyers get rich, and so on. There exists a loophole, however, whereby Company A can also file an injunction with the International Trade Commission, who do not have to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that frowned upon sales injunctions. Obviously, this only works when Company B's product is manufactured overseas and imported into the US, but thanks to globalization, that category is pretty vast. 苏州美甲

In these cases, the ITC can ban the importation of Company B's product if it finds patent infringement. In fact, chip maker Qualcomm and a host of other companies have faced the possibility of having imports of their products banned by the ITC. Now Techdirt has found a law review article from Santa Clara University that examines the use of Section 337 of the 1930 Trade Act (the law in question).

The article finds that Section 337 is used as often as not between two US companies, hardly in keeping with a piece of protectionist legislation that was designed to protect US companies from foreign competition. Companies are also simultaneously using legal challenges through the courts and Section 337, and going the ITC route is often easier, as the ITC does not recognize defenses allowable in court.

In cases between a US company and a foreign rival, the ITC is supposed to show neutrality, simply deciding on the facts, although it has been alleged that this is often not the case, potentially in contravention of international trade treaties such as TRIPS.

Could US legislators be spurred into closing the loophole? Perhaps a particularly egregious case between two US companies might result in such an event. I'm skeptical of such an outcome; Section 337 can be painted by defenders as the best kind of protectionism against foreign competition, and in a time of economic hardship, relaxing trade barriers into the US seems more than a little unlikely.

Category: 苏州美甲

GAO: nobody’s minding store at the Universal Service Fund

admin | | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

The Federal Communications Commission's messy, troubled, and financially unstable Universal Service Fund (USF) got another 2MB of brutally honest feedback on Friday, this time from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO's survey of the USF's High Cost (HC) program—designed to lower phone prices for rural and some urban consumers—concludes that HC's structure results in "inconsistent distribution of support to carriers in all states." That's a nice way of saying that the plan reimburses rural telephone and broadband providers that offer the same services for different levels of money, and the USF can't keep track of the discrepancies. 苏州美甲

"There is a clearly established purpose for the high-cost program," GAO concluded, "but the FCC has not established performance goals or measures." Specifically, the agency hasn't set across-the-board benchmarks for its recipients for "intermediate and multiyear periods." Translation: the agency hasn't established meaningful expectations at all.

But that's not the worst of it. GAO basically says that the USF's audits of carriers aren't really audits. "Carrier data validation focuses primarily on completion and not accuracy"—a polite way of saying that USF auditors make sure all the data is submitted, but don't check whether it's accurate.

"These weaknesses could contribute to excessive program expenditures," the GAO concludes. Uh, yeah—like a program that now costs over $4 billion a year.

You need ambition

It is a fact that ever since the dawn of telephone service, rural consumers have been getting the short end of the telco stick. Alexander Bell's Gilded Age telephone system focused on the urban middle class: doctors, businessmen, high-class clientèle. Theodore Vail's AT&T did a little better during the Progressive Era, but not much—independents provided much of the rural service, endlessly battling with AT&T over long-distance interconnection. Rural service sank like a stone during the Depression, not to improve significantly until the 1960s. As late as 2002 it cost telcos three times more to provide rural phone access than it did to provide service to city dwellers.

Some believe the USF should be
blown up like the Death Star

Shortly after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 established the goal of universal service, the FCC set up the USF, which tithes interstate phone bills to support its high-cost, low-income rural health care and schools and libraries programs. But nobody denies that the USF is a mess. Critics say that one reason its High Cost program is so troubled is that smaller competitive phone carriers get reimbursed based not on their actual expenses, but on the level of support that the big incumbent telcos receive. This is probably one of many reasons that the program's costs have ballooned of late, to $4.3 billion in 2007, a 153 percent jump between 1998 and 2007. More and more of that money, although not a majority of it, now goes to smaller firms.

Another reason for galloping costs, the GAO observes, is that the FCC doesn't keep HC recipients on a very tight leash. "12 years after the passage of the 1996 Act and after distributing over $30 billion in high cost programs support, FCC has yet to develop specific performance goals and measures for the program," the audit agency writes. The FCC doesn't establish intermediate objectives for providers, GAO says, a nice way of saying that the government doesn't actually lay out specific things it expects providers to deliver.

But perhaps the most important conclusion of the GAO report is that nobody really audits the cost records of these telcos for, well, the truth. FCC and USF data collection efforts only audit a small percentage of telcos, and "generally focus on completeness and consistency of carriers' data submissions, but not the accuracy of the data." In many instances the cost and line count data isn't verified. "Inaccuracies in cost and line count data, which are not uncovered through review, could facilitate excessive program expenditures," GAO concludes. Woah. Ya think?

The FCC responded to the GAO survey and says that it is already implementing some of the agency's recommendations. The Commission's Inspector General is presently auditing 650 USF program recipients, the FCC says: "As part of these audits, for the first time, the high-cost program is subject to statistical sampling and attest audits to determine compliance with the [Communications] Act and the Commission rules." Hope springs eternal.

Further reading:
The GAO report on the USF's High Cost Program

Category: 苏州美甲