Author Archives: BeauHD

European Governments Approve Controversial New Copyright Law

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A controversial overhaul of Europe's copyright laws overcame a key hurdle on Wednesday as a majority of European governments signaled support for the deal. That sets the stage for a pivotal vote by the European Parliament that's expected to occur in March or April. Supporters of the legislation portray it as a benign overhaul of copyright that will strengthen anti-piracy efforts. Opponents, on the other hand, warn that its most controversial provision, known as Article 13, could force Internet platforms to adopt draconian filtering technologies. The cost to develop filtering technology could be particularly burdensome for smaller companies, critics say. Online service providers have struggled to balance free speech and piracy for close to two decades. Faced with this difficult tradeoff, the authors of Article 13 have taken a rainbows-and-unicorns approach, promising stricter copyright enforcement, no wrongful takedowns of legitimate content, and minimal burdens on smaller technology platforms. But it seems unlikely that any law can achieve all of these objectives simultaneously. And digital-rights groups suspect that users will wind up getting burned -- both due to wrongful takedowns of legitimate content and because the burdens of mandatory filtering will make it harder to start a new online hosting service.

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President Trump Wants US To Win 5G Through Real Competition

hackingbear writes: In a tweet, President Trump said he wanted "5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind." While he did not specifically mention China's Huawei, many interpreted the comments as Mr Trump taking a softer stance on the firm. The U.S. has been pressuring allies to block out the Chinese telecom giant from their future 5G mobile networks, but the tactic meets considerable resistance. "Mr. President. I cannot agree with you more. Our company is always ready to help build the real 5G network in the U.S., through competition," Huawei President Ken Hu replied in a tweet, mocking Trump's frequent usages of the word "real." Huawei is the second biggest holder of 5G patents after Samsung and the top contributor to the 5G standard, and is setting its sight on 6G.

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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 Successfully Touches Down On Ryugu Asteroid, Fires Bullet Into Its Surface

Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully touched down on the asteroid Ryugu at around 11:30 GMT on Thursday. "Data from the probe showed changes in speed and direction, indicating it had reached the asteroid's surface, according to officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)," reports The Guardian. From the report: The probe was due to fire a bullet at the Ryugu asteroid, to stir up surface matter, which it will then collect for analysis back on Earth. The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born. The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa 2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa. The spacecraft is seeking to gather 10g of the dislodged debris with an instrument named the Sampler Horn that hangs from its underbelly. Whatever material is collected by the spacecraft will be stored onboard until Hayabusa 2 reaches its landing site in Woomera, South Australia, in 2020 after a journey of more than three billion miles. UPDATE: JAXA says it successfully fired a "bullet" into Ryugu, collecting the disturbed material. "JAXA scientists had expected to find a powdery surface on Ryugu, but tests showed that the asteroid is covered in larger gravel," reports CNN. "As a result the team had to carry out a simulation to test whether the projectile would be capable of disturbing enough material to be collected by [the Sampler Horn]. The team is planning a total of three sampling events over the next few weeks."

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Researchers Make Coldest Quantum Gas of Molecules

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: JILA researchers have made a long-lived, record-cold gas of molecules that follow the wave patterns of quantum mechanics instead of the strictly particle nature of ordinary classical physics. The creation of this gas boosts the odds for advances in fields such as designer chemistry and quantum computing. As featured on the cover of the Feb. 22 issue of Science, the team produced a gas of potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules at temperatures as low as 50 nanokelvin (nK). That's 50 billionths of a Kelvin, or just a smidge above absolute zero, the lowest theoretically possible temperature. The molecules are in the lowest-possible energy states, making up what is known as a degenerate Fermi gas. In a quantum gas, all of the molecules' properties are restricted to specific values, or quantized, like rungs on a ladder or notes on a musical scale. Chilling the gas to the lowest temperatures gives researchers maximum control over the molecules. The two atoms involved are in different classes: Potassium is a fermion (with an odd number of subatomic components called protons and neutrons) and rubidium is a boson (with an even number of subatomic components). The resulting molecules have a Fermi character. Before now, the coldest two-atom molecules were produced in maximum numbers of tens of thousands and at temperatures no lower than a few hundred nanoKelvin. JILA's latest gas temperature record is much lower than (about one-third of) the level where quantum effects start to take over from classical effects, and the molecules last for a few seconds -- remarkable longevity. These new ultra-low temperatures will enable researchers to compare chemical reactions in quantum versus classical environments and study how electric fields affect the polar interactions, since these newly created molecules have a positive electric charge at the rubidium atom and a negative charge at the potassium atom. Some practical benefits could include new chemical processes, new methods for quantum computing using charged molecules as quantum bits, and new precision measurement tools such as molecular clocks.

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Frontier Demands $4,300 Cancellation Fee Despite Horribly Slow Internet

Frontier Communications reportedly charged a cancellation fee of $4,302.17 to the operator of a one-person business in Wisconsin, even though she switched to a different Internet provider because Frontier's service was frequently unusable. From the report: Candace Lestina runs the Pardeeville Area Shopper, a weekly newspaper and family business that she took over when her mother retired. Before retiring, her mother had entered a three-year contract with Frontier to provide Internet service to the one-room office on North Main Street in Pardeeville. Six months into the contract, Candace Lestina decided to switch to the newly available Charter offering "for better service and a cheaper bill," according to a story yesterday by News 3 Now in Wisconsin. The Frontier Internet service "was dropping all the time," Lestina told the news station. This was a big problem for Lestina, who runs the paper on her own in Pardeeville, a town of about 2,000 people. "I actually am everything. I make the paper, I distribute the paper," she said. Because of Frontier's bad service, "I would have times where I need to send my paper -- I have very strict deadlines with my printer -- and my Internet's out." Lestina figured she'd have to pay a cancellation fee when she switched to Charter's faster cable Internet but nothing near the $4,300 that Frontier later sent her a bill for, the News 3 Now report said. Charter offered to pay $500 toward the early termination penalty, but the fee is still so large that it could "put her out of business," the news report said. [...] Lestina said the early termination fee wasn't fully spelled out in her contract. "Nothing is ever described of what those cancellation fees actually are, which is that you will pay your entire bill for the rest of the contract," she said. Lestina said she pleaded her case to Frontier representatives, without success, even though Frontier had failed to provide a consistent Internet connection. "They did not really care that I was having such severe problems with the service. That does not bother them," she said. Instead of waiving or reducing the cancellation fee, Frontier threatened to send the matter to a collections agency, Lestina said.

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NVIDIA Turing-Based GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Launched At $279

MojoKid writes: NVIDIA has launched yet another graphics card today based on the company's new Turing GPU. This latest GPU, however, doesn't support NVIDIA's RTX ray-tracing technology or its DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) image quality tech. The new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti does, however, bring with it all of the other GPU architecture improvements NVIDIA Turing offers. The new TU116 GPU on board the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti supports concurrent integer and floating point instructions (rather than serializing integer and FP instructions), and it also has a redesigned cache structure with double the amount of L2 cache versus their predecessors, while its L1 cache has been outfitted with a wider memory bus that ultimately doubles the bandwidth. NVIDIA's TU116 has 1,536 active CUDA cores, which is a decent uptick from the GTX 1060, but less than the current gen RTX 2060. Cards will also come equipped with 6GB of GDDR6 memory at 12 Gbps for 288GB/s of bandwidth. Performance-wise, the new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is typically slightly faster than a previous gen GeFore GTX 1070, and much faster than a GTX 1060. Cards should be available at retail in the next few days, starting at $279.

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Microsoft Workers’ Letter Demands Company Drop $479 Million HoloLens Military Contract

A group of Microsoft workers have addressed top executives in a letter demanding the company drop a controversial contract with the U.S. army. The Verge reports: The workers object to the company taking a $479 million contract last year to supply tech for the military's Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS. Under the project, Microsoft, the maker of the HoloLens augmented reality headset, could eventually provide more than 100,000 headsets designed for combat and training in the military. The Army has described the project as a way to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy." "We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military, helping one country's government 'increase lethality' using tools we built," the workers write in the letter, addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith. "We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used." The letter, which organizers say included dozens of employee signatures at publication time, argues Microsoft has "crossed the line into weapons development" with the contract. "Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology," it reads. The workers are demanding the company cancel the contract, stop developing any weapons technology, create a public policy committing to not build weapons technology, and appoint an external ethics review board to enforce the policy. While the letter notes the company has an AI ethics review process called Aether, the workers say it is "not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates." "As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers," the letter sent today concludes. "To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army's ability to cause harm and violence."

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Instagram Code Reveals Public ‘Collections’ Feature To Take On Pinterest

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public "Collections" to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest. Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items, or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that's caused backlash against meme "curators" like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people's stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love -- even if you didn't photograph them yourself. The "Make Collection Public" option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It's not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagaram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016. Currently there's nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other's Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step.

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Apple To Close Retail Stores In the Patent Troll-Favored Eastern District of Texas

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Apple has confirmed its plans to close retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas -- a move that will allow the company to better protect itself from patent infringement lawsuits, according to Apple news sites 9to5Mac and MacRumors which broke the news of the stores' closures. Apple says that the impacted retail employees will be offered new jobs with the company as a result of these changes. The company will shut down its Apple Willow Bend store in Plano, Texas as well as its Apple Stonebriar store in Frisco, Texas, MacRumors reported, and Apple confirmed. These stores will permanently close up shop on Friday, April 12. Customers in the region will instead be served by a new Apple store located at the Galleria Dallas Shopping Mall, which is expected to open April 13. "The Eastern District of Texas had become a popular place for patent trolls to file their lawsuits, though a more recent Supreme Court ruling has attempted to crack down on the practice," the report adds. "The court ruled that patent holders could no longer choose where to file." One of the most infamous patent holding firms is VirnetX, which has won several big patent cases against Apple in recent years. A spokesperson for Apple confirmed the stores' closures, but wouldn't comment on the company's reasoning: "We're making a major investment in our stores in Texas, including significant upgrades to NorthPark Center, Southlake and Knox Street. With a new Dallas store coming to the Dallas Galleria this April, we've made the decision to consolidate stores and close Apple Stonebriar and Apple Willow Bend. All employees from those stores will be offered positions at the new Dallas store or other Apple locations."

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Facebook Will Shut Down Its Spyware VPN App Onavo

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Facebook will end its unpaid market research programs and proactively take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play store in the wake of backlash following TechCrunch's investigation about Onavo code being used in a Facebook Research app the sucked up data about teens. The Onavo Protect app will eventually shut down, and will immediately cease pulling in data from users for market research though it will continue operating as a Virtual Private Network in the short-term to allow users to find a replacement. Facebook has also ceased to recruit new users for the Facebook Research app that still runs on Android but was forced off of iOS by Apple after we reported on how it violated Apple's Enterprise Certificate program for employee-only apps. Existing Facebook Research app studies will continue to run, though. Onavo billed itself as a way to "limit apps from using background data and use a secure VPN network for your personal info" but also noted it would collect the "Time you spend using apps, mobile and Wi-Fi data you use per app, the websites you visit, and your country, device and network type." A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the change and provided this statement: "Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we're going to end the Onavo program."

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Israel Launches Spacecraft To the Moon

The first privately funded mission to land on the moon took one giant step forward this evening as an Israeli spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. "[I]f the mission is successful, it would make Israel the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface -- after the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China," reports NPR. From the report: The spacecraft launched with a Space X Falcon 9 rocket, according to SpaceIL's partner Israel Aerospace Industries. It detached from the reusable rocket, which returned to an off-shore platform. The spacecraft was to make several orbits around Earth, slowly getting closer to the moon. In a difficult maneuver, it was to pivot from orbiting Earth to orbiting the moon, and then eventually attempt a treacherous landing on the moon. The total journey will take several months, with a landing anticipated in mid-April. According to IAI, it would be the "longest journey until landing on the moon, 6.5 million kilometers." [The spacecraft, which is called Beresheet (Hebrew for "in the beginning"] is covered in gold-colored reflective coating. And as WMFE's Brendan Byrne reported, it's about the size of a kitchen table. It's carrying a digital time capsule which, according to The Jerusalem Post, contains "drawings by Israeli children, the Bible, the national anthem, prayers, Israeli songs and a map of the State of Israel, among other cultural items." The spacecraft is set to run experiments on the moon's surface -- in particular, SpaceIL says it will collaborate with the Weizmann Institute of Science and UCLA to "take measurements of the Moon's mysterious magnetic field."

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YouTube Videos Could Get Demonetized If They Have ‘Inappropriate Comments’

In response to a mother's inquiry into why her son's gymnastics videos were deemed not advertiser friendly, YouTube said on Twitter it has "taken a number of actions to better protect the YouTube community from content that endangers minors." The video-sharing website went on to say something very concerning for anyone who has ever uploaded a video to the site: "... even if your video is suitable for advertisers, inappropriate comments could result in your video receiving limited or no ads (yellow icon)." Essentially, what YouTube is saying is that if someone leaves a "incendiary or demeaning" comment, or one with "inappropriate language," the video which features that comment could get demonetized and the content creator would not generate money from it. If you've ever read a comment thread on YouTube, it shouldn't take long for you to realize how big of an issue this could become. According to YouTube's "advertiser-friendly content guidelines," the following content may not be suitable for most advertisers: "controversial issues and sensitive events," "drugs and dangerous products or substances," "harmful or dangerous acts," "harmful or dangerous acts," "hateful content," "inappropriate language," "inappropriate use of family entertainment characters," "incendiary and demeaning [content]," "sexually suggestive content," and/or "violence." The best advice for circumventing this issue is to disable comments entirely, but this would significantly reduce the interaction between the YouTuber and the viewer. "If this is our new reality we're going to need the ability to restrict comments from accounts under 1-4 weeks old," says news commentator and YouTube personality Philip DeFranco. "Sounds like this is prime for weaponization. Also it would probably be best to have an official blog post instead of my tweet as a reference for this change."

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China’s CRISPR Twins Might Have Had Their Brains Inadvertently Enhanced

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: The brains of two genetically-edited girls born in China last year may have been changed in ways that enhance cognition and memory, scientists say. The twins, called Lulu and Nana, were modified using CRISPR, a new gene-editing tool, by a Chinese scientific team to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Now, new research shows the same genetic alteration introduced into the girls' DNA, to a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter, but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school. "The answer is likely yes, it did affect their brains," says Alcino J. Silva, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Silva's lab lab has been uncovering a major new role for the CCR5 gene in memory formation and the brain's ability to form new connections. "The simplest interpretation is that those mutations will probably have an impact on cognitive function in the twins," says Silva. He says the exact effect on the girls cognition is impossible to predict and "that is why it should not be done." The Chinese designer babies were created to be resistant to HIV. A team in Shenzhen, China, led by Southern University of Science and Technology He Jiankui used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to delete a single gene, called CCR5, from human embryos, some of which were later used to create pregnancies. The virus that causes AIDS requires the CCR5 gene to enter human blood cells. The scientist, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, has been fired from the university as He is under investigation in China. There is no evidence that He actually set out to modify the twins' intelligence.

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Waymo Self-Driving Cars Can Now Obey Police Hand Signals

In the event that a traffic light is not working, Waymo's self-driving cars will now be able to use AI to detect and respond to the arm movements of a traffic cop as they wave traffic through an intersection. You can watch a demo of it on YouTube. Futurism reports: Waymo first claimed that its autonomous vehicles could respond to hand signals from nearby cyclists back in 2016. That particular research treated cyclists, from the vehicle's perspective, as obstacles to track and avoid. A new video published by Waymo on Wednesday is the first that shows its vehicles responding to gesture commands -- especially in the absence of the traffic lights on which it would normally rely -- and obeying police orders. The video, which runs at three times normal speed, shows a picture-in-picture display of the car's digital perspective and a video camera as it goes through an intersection. The video shows the car approach the intersection where a virtual red wall blocks off the road, suggesting that the computer's software responds to the absence of a green light at an intersection the same way as it might to an illuminated red light. The cop in the video, represented by a small prism, teeters across the virtual representation of the intersection before finally waving the Waymo vehicle's vehicle through the intersection and along its way.

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Google Will End Forced Arbitration For Employees

Google said it will no longer require current and future staff to go through mandatory arbitration for disputes with the company. "The change goes into effect on March 21," reports CNET. "The search giant will also remove mandatory arbitration from its own employment agreements with contract and temporary staff, though the change won't impact staffing firms." From the report: This comes after Google employees in November walked out of their offices to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment claims. One of their demands was to end forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and discrimination. In January, some Google employees launched a social media campaign to pressure the company and other tech companies to drop mandatory arbitration. Mandatory arbitration often means workers can't take their employers to court when they complain internally. The campaign organizers said 60 million Americans are affected by forced arbitration.

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Verizon Plans To Roll Out Its 5G Mobile Network In 30 Cities This Year

Verizon has announced plans to turn on its 5G mobile network in 30 U.S. cities this year. "It revealed the plan during an investor meeting Thursday, though didn't disclose the list of cities," reports Engadget. From the report: Verizon already offers home broadband service via 5G in Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento. This month, it hinted at upcoming rollouts in New York City and Atlanta, as well as Medford, Massachusetts, suggesting Verizon will bring 5G to nearby Boston too. The provider plans to flip the switch on its mobile 5G network in the first half of this year, and it will expand its home 5G service to more markets later in 2019. One of the first phones to support Verizon's nascent 5G network will be the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which was unveiled yesterday at Samsung's Unpacked event. The device has a larger screen and battery than the S10 Plus, and will temporarily be a Verizon exclusive before expanding to other carriers in the weeks after launch. It's slated to go on sale sometime "in the first half of 2019."

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Experts Find Serious Problems With Switzerland’s Online Voting System

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Switzerland made headlines this month for the transparency of its internet voting system when it launched a public penetration test and bug bounty program to test the resiliency of the system to attack. But after source code for the software and technical documentation describing its architecture were leaked online last week, critics are already expressing concern about the system's design and about the transparency around the public test. Cryptography experts who spent just a few hours examining the leaked code say the system is a poorly constructed and convoluted maze that makes it difficult to follow what's going on and effectively evaluate whether the cryptography and other security measures deployed in the system are done properly. "Most of the system is split across hundreds of different files, each configured at various levels," Sarah Jamie Lewis, a former security engineer for Amazon as well as a former computer scientist for England's GCHQ intelligence agency, told Motherboard. "I'm used to dealing with Java code that runs across different packages and different teams, and this code somewhat defeats even my understanding." She said the system uses cryptographic solutions that are fairly new to the field and that have to be implemented in very specific ways to make the system auditable, but the design the programmers chose thwarts this. "It is simply not the standard we would expect," she told Motherboard. [...] It isn't just outside attackers that are a concern; the system raises the possibility for an insider to intentionally misconfigure the system to make it easier to manipulate, while maintaining plausible deniability that the misconfiguration was unintentional. "Someone could wire the thing in the wrong place and suddenly the system is compromised," said Lewis, who is currently executive director of the Open Privacy Research Society, a Canadian nonprofit that develops secure and privacy-enhancing software for marginalized communities. "And when you're talking about code that is supposed to be protecting a national election, that is not a statement someone should be able to make." "You expect secure code to be defensively written that would prevent the implementers of the code from wiring it up incorrectly," Lewis told Motherboard. But instead of building a system that doesn't allow for this, the programmers simply added a comment to their source code telling anyone who compiles and implements it to take care to configure it properly, she said. The online voting system was developed by Swiss Post, the country's national postal service, and the Barcelona-based company Scytl. "Scytl claims the system uses end-to-end encryption that only the Swiss Electoral Board would be able to decrypt," reports Motherboard. "But there are reasons to be concerned about such claims."

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Consumer Reports No Longer Recommends the Tesla Model 3

Consumer Reports is pulling its recommendation of the Tesla Model 3, citing reliability issues with the car. "Tesla buyers are more likely to be satisfied with their car than customers of any other brand, according to Consumer Reports," reports CNN. "Yet the publication says many customers reported problems with the Model 3, including loose body trim and glass defects." From the report: "Consumers expect their cars to last -- and not be in the repair shop. That's why reliability is so important," said Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. Tesla pointed to its overall customer satisfaction rating from Consumer Reports and said it has corrected many of the problems found in the survey. "We take feedback from our customers very seriously and quickly implement improvements any time we hear about issues," said the company statement. It said the survey was conducted from July through September, "so the vast majority of these issues have already been corrected through design and manufacturing improvements, and we are already seeing a significant improvement in our field data." Last May, the product testing website failed to give the Model 3 a recommendation due to issues with braking, but ultimately reversed its decision after Tesla released a firmware update improving the car's breaking distance by nearly 20 feet.

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Unearthed Emails Show Google, Ad Giants Know They Break Privacy Laws

AmiMoJo shares a report from The Register: Privacy warriors have filed fresh evidence in their ongoing battle against real-time web ad exchange systems, which campaigners claim trample over Europe's data protection laws. The new filings -- submitted today to regulators in the UK, Ireland, and Poland -- allege that Google and industry body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) are well aware that their advertising networks flout the EU's privacy-safeguarding GDPR, and yet are doing nothing about it. The IAB, Google -- which is an IAB member -- and others in the ad-slinging world insist they aren't doing anything wrong. The fresh submissions come soon after the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) revealed plans to probe programmatic ads. These are adverts that are selected and served on-the-fly as you visit a webpage, using whatever personal information has been scraped together about you to pick an ad most relevant to your interests. [...] The ICO's investigation will focus on how well informed people are about how their personal information is used for this kind of online advertising, which laws ad-technology firms rely on for processing said private data, and whether users' data is secure as it is shared on these platforms.

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American Airlines Has Cameras In Their Screens Too

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: A viral photo showing a camera in a Singapore Airlines in-flight TV display recently caused an uproar online. The image was retweeted hundreds of times, with many people expressing concern about the privacy implications. As it turns out, some seat-back screens in American Airlines' premium economy class have them, too. Sri Ray was aboard an American Airlines Boeing 777-200 flight to Tokyo in September 2018 when he noticed something strange: a camera embedded in the seat back of his entertainment system. The cameras are also visible in this June 2017 review of the airline's premium economy offering by the Points Guy, as well as this YouTube video by Business Traveller magazine. American Airlines spokesperson Ross Feinstein confirmed to BuzzFeed News that cameras are present on some of the airlines' in-flight entertainment systems, but said "they have never been activated, and American is not considering using them." Feinstein added, "Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment." After Twitter user Vitaly Kamluk saw a similar lens on Singapore Airlines and tweeted photos of the system last week, the airline responded from its official Twitter account, saying the cameras were "disabled." Still, the airlines could quell passengers' concerns by covering the lenses with a plastic cover, if indeed there is no use for the camera.

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Montana Legislator Introduces Bills To Give His State His Own Science

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The legislator in question is Republican Joe Read, who represents an area north of Missoula, home of many fine scientists at the University of Montana. Read has eight bills under consideration in the current session of the legislature, and two of those focus on climate change. One of them focuses on his state's role in any greenhouse gas regulatory program that would be instituted under a future president. Read is apparently unaware of past legal precedent indicating that the federal government has the legal ability to regulate pollutants. Instead, the preamble of the bill seemingly argues that Montana's emissions are all due to commerce that takes place within the state, and thus "any federal greenhouse gas regulatory program in the form of law or rule violates the 10th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States." As a result, the bill would prohibit state agencies, officials, and employees from doing anything to cooperate with federal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. If passed, the Montana government "may not implement or enforce in any way any federal regulation, rule, or policy implementing a federal greenhouse gas regulatory program." But if you thought Read's grasp of constitutional law was shaky, you should check out his reason for objecting to doing anything about climate change. That's laid out in his second bill, which targets both science education and in-state programs designed to reduce carbon emissions. And it doesn't mince words, suggesting that pretty much all the scientists have it wrong: "the [US] National Climate Assessment makes the same errors as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the National Academy of Sciences is also fundamentally wrong about climate change."

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NASA Eyes Colossal Cracks In Ice Shelf Near Antarctic Station

NASA is keeping an eye on the Brunt Ice Shelf, home to the British Antarctic Survey's Halley VI Research Station, which has growing cracks that are threatening to unload an iceberg soon. "NASA/USGS Landsat satellites are monitoring the action as the cracks grow," reports CNET. "When the iceberg calves, it could be twice the size of New York City. That would make it the largest berg to break off the Brunt ice shelf since observations of the area began in 1915." From the report: An annotated view of the ice shelf shows the cracks as they relate to the Halley VI station. The crack leading up the middle is especially concerning. It's been stable for 35 years, but NASA says it's now extending northward as fast as 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per year. As of December, Halley station was home to around 30 science and technical staff on missions to study the ice shelf and climate change in the polar region. The BAS completed a relocation of the futuristic-looking Halley station in 2017, placing it farther away from the unpredictable cracking. "It is not yet clear how the remaining ice shelf will respond following the break, posing an uncertain future for scientific infrastructure and a human presence on the shelf that was first established in 1955," NASA says. NASA says iceberg calving is "a normal part of the life cycle of ice shelves, but the recent changes are unfamiliar in this area."

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Israel To Launch First Privately Funded Moon Mission

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A team of Israeli scientists is to launch what will be the first privately funded mission to land on the moon this week, sending a spacecraft to collect data from the lunar surface. Named Beresheet, the Hebrew word for Genesis, the 585kg (1,290lb) robotic lander will blast off from Florida at 01.45 GMT on Friday, propelled by one of Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Once it touches down, in several weeks, it will measure the magnetic field of the moon to help understand how it formed. Beresheet will also deposit a "time capsule" of digital files the size of coins containing the Bible, children's drawings, Israel's national anthem and blue and white flag, as well as memories of a Holocaust survivor. While it is not a government-led initiative, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) corporation joined as a partner. If the mission is successful, Israel will become the fourth country, after Russia, the U.S. and China, to reach the moon. "This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission," an IAI statement said of the $100 million project. "The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions." It added that although it was a private venture, Beresheet was a "national and historic achievement."

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Cybersecurity Expert Questions Existence of Embedded Camera On SIA’s Inflight Entertainment Systems

Vitaly Kamluk, an information security expert and a high-ranking executive of cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, went on Twitter with concerns about an embedded camera in Singapore Airlines' (SIA) inflight entertainment systems. He tagged SIA in his post on Sunday, asking the airline to clarify how the camera is being used. Yahoo News reports: SIA quickly allayed his fears of unwanted surveillance by assuring Kamluk that the cameras have been disabled, with no plans to use them in the future. Not all of their devices sport the camera, though -- SIA explained that only some of its newer inflight entertainment systems come with cameras embedded in the hardware. In another tweet, SIA affirmed that the cameras were already built in by the original equipment manufacturers in newer inflight entertainment systems. Kamluk recommended that it's best to disable the cameras physically -- with stickers, for example -- to provide better peace of mind. In 2017, entertainment device developer Panasonic Avionics said it was studying how eye tracking can be used for a better passenger experience. As the report mentions, "Cameras can be used for identity recognition on planes, which in turn, would allow for in-flight biometric payment (much like Face ID on Apple devices) and personalized services."

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Britain and Germany Will Not Ban Huawei, Citing Lack of Spying Evidence

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes from a report via Reuters: Despite persistent U.S. allegations of Chinese state spying, Britain said it is able to manage the security risks of using Huawei telecom equipments and has not seen any evidence of malicious activity by the company, a senior official said on Wednesday. Asked later whether Washington had presented Britain with any evidence to support its allegations, he told reporters: "I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence [...] by Huawei. And we're yet to have to do that. So I hope that covers it." At the same time, German officials have told The Wall Street Journal that the country has made a "preliminary decision" to allow Huawei to bid on contracts for 5G networking. Catering to the surging populism, the U.S. has accused Huawei and other Chinese telecom equipments, along with European cars, as national security risks, even though the National Security Agency, American's cyber spying agency, was found to have wiretapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel, conducted economic espionage against France, and hacked into Chinese networks. Earlier this week, beleaguered Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei described the continued investigations by the U.S. into the Chinese firm -- including the arrest of his daughter and company CFO, Meng Wanzhou -- as politically motivated.

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Google Is Expected To Reveal Game Streaming Service At GDC In March

Google has sent out invites to this year's Game Developers Conference (GDC) press event, where the company is expected to unveil a new game streaming product. ExtremeTech reports: There have been rumors about a Google game stream product or service for several years. Initially, leaks pointed to a hardware platform called Yeti that would stream games to a connected display. In late 2018, Google rolled out a game streaming test called Project Stream. To publicize the demo, it worked with Ubisoft to give everyone free access to the new Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Google wrapped up Project Stream in early 2019, offering players a free copy of Assassin's Creed Odyssey as thanks. Of course, you'd need a real gaming PC to run that version. Google's GDC event will take place on March 19th at 10 AM Pacific. All we know for sure is that Google is there to talk about a gaming project. It just seems extremely likely that it will be a new phase for Project Stream. It might remain browser-only, but Google does have a giant network of TV's out there with Chromecast streaming dongles plugged in. If it could leverage those to stream games, it could instantly have as many eyeballs as Sony or Microsoft.

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Vox Lawyers Briefly Censored YouTubers Who Mocked the Verge’s Bad PC Build Video

An anonymous reader writes: In case you missed the latest drama to take place in the YouTube tech community, Ars Technica reports how Vox Media attempted to copyright strike two reaction videos that mocked The Verge's terrible PC build guide video that could have ruined a $2,000 system for a beginner PC builder. That effort failed when the tech community sounded the alarms; YouTube removed the copyright strikes and Vox Media had to retract their takedown notice. From the report: "Last week, The Verge got a reminder about the power of the Streisand effect after its lawyers issued copyright takedown requests for two YouTube videos that criticized -- and heavily excerpted -- a video by The Verge. Each takedown came with a copyright 'strike.' It was a big deal for the creators of the videos, because three 'strikes' in a 90-day period are enough to get a YouTuber permanently banned from the platform. T.C. Sottek, the Verge's managing editor, blamed lawyers at the Verge's parent company, Vox Media, for the decision. 'The Verge's editorial structure was involved zero percent in the decision to issue a strike,' Sottek said in a direct message. 'Vox Media's legal team did this independently and informed us of it after the fact.' The move sparked an online backlash. Verge editor Nilay Patel (who, full disclosure, was briefly a colleague of mine at The Verge's sister publication Vox.com), says that when he learned about the decision, he asked that the strike be rescinded, leading to the videos being reinstated. Still, Patel defended the lawyers' legal reasoning, arguing that the videos 'crossed the line' into copyright infringement. It's hard to be sure if this is true since there are very few precedents in this area of the law. But the one legal precedent I was able to find suggests the opposite: that this kind of video is solidly within the bounds of copyright's fair use doctrine."

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A Psion Palmtop Successor Has Arrived and It Runs Android and Linux

dryriver writes: A lot of people probably remember the 1990s palmtop computers made by Psion fondly. The clamshell-design palmtops were pocketable, black and white, but had a working stylus and a fantastic tactile foldout QWERTY keyboard that you could type pretty substantial documents on or even write code with. A different company -- Planet Computers -- has now produced a spiritual successor to the old Psion palmtops called the Gemini PDA that is much like an old Psion but with the latest Android smartphone hardware in it and a virtually identical tactile keyboard. It can also dual boot to Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Sailfish) alongside Android. The technical specs are a MediaTek deca-core processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage (plus microSD slot), 4G, 802.11c Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, eSIM support, and 4,220mAh battery. The screen measures in at 5.99-inches with a 2,160 x 1,080 (403ppi) resolution. The only thing missing seems to be the stylus -- but perhaps that would have complicated manufacturing of this niche-device in its first production run.

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Are We Ready For 5G Phones?

Next-generation 5G networks are very much in their infancy right now, but that's not stopping smartphone manufacturers from teasing new 5G phones. At Samsung's Galaxy S10 launch event today, Samsung teased the Galaxy S10 5G, a top-tier model of the Galaxy S10 that offers 5G mobile data connectivity. "The device, which has a larger screen and battery than the S10 Plus, will temporarily be a Verizon Wireless exclusive before expanding to other carriers in the weeks after launch," reports The Verge. "It will go on sale sometime 'in the first half of 2019." Late last year, LG confirmed that its first U.S. 5G phone would debut on Sprint "in the first half of 2019," just as Sprint launches its 5G network. At around the same time, Lenovo unveiled the Moto Z3, a phone that only connects to 5G with a MotoMod modular accessory. It too is expected to arrive early this year -- but there's no mention of how much it'll cost. OnePlus, Nokia, and Huawei are also working on 5G phones expected to arrive sometime this year. The question is: are we ready for 5G phones? Three of the four largest carriers in the U.S. have only just started offering 5G service in select cities. Sprint, the fourth largest U.S. telecommunications company, hasn't even reached this step. Just like the first 4G phones to hit the market, these first-of-their-kind 5G devices look to merely symbolize what the next decade of mobile computing has in store.

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Disney, Nestle, and Others Are Pulling YouTube Ads Following Child Exploitation Controversy

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Disney is said to have pulled its advertising spending from YouTube, joining other companies including Nestle, after a blogger detailed how comments on Google's video site were being used to facilitate a "soft-core pedophilia ring." Some of the videos involved ran next to ads placed by Disney and Nestle. All Nestle companies in the U.S. have paused advertising on YouTube, a spokeswoman for the company said Wednesday in an email. Video game maker Epic Games and German packaged food giant Dr. August Oetker KG also said they had postponed YouTube spending after their ads were shown to play before the videos. Disney has also withheld its spending. On Sunday, Matt Watson, a video blogger, posted a 20-minute clip detailing how comments on YouTube were used to identify certain videos in which young girls were in activities that could be construed as sexually suggestive, such as posing in front of a mirror and doing gymnastics. Watson's video demonstrated how, if users clicked on one of the videos, YouTube's algorithms recommended similar ones. By Wednesday, Watson's video had been viewed more than 1.7 million times. Total ad spending on the videos mentioned was less than $8,000 within the last 60 days, and YouTube plans refunds, the spokeswoman said. Two years ago, Verizon, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other major companies pulled their ads from YouTube after learning that some of their ads surfaced next to extremist and violent content. Yesterday, YouTube released an updated policy about how it will handle content that "crosses the line" of appropriateness. "Any content -- including comments -- that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube. We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling violative comments," a spokeswoman for YouTube said in an email.

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Qualcomm Urges US Regulators To Reverse Course, Ban Some iPhones

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Qualcomm is urging U.S. trade regulators to reverse a judge's ruling and ban the import of some Apple iPhones in a long-running patent fight between the two companies. Qualcomm is seeking the ban in hopes of dealing Apple a blow before the two begin a major trial in mid-April in San Diego over Qualcomm's patent licensing practices. Qualcomm has sought to apply pressure to Apple with smaller legal challenges ahead of that trial and has won partial iPhone sales bans in China and Germany against Apple, forcing the iPhone maker to ship only phones with Qualcomm chips to some markets. Any possible ban on iPhone imports to the United States could be short-lived because Apple last week for the first time disclosed that it has found a software fix to avoid infringing on one of Qualcomm's patents. Apple asked regulators to give it as much as six months to prove that the fix works. Qualcomm brought a case against Apple at the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2017 alleging that some iPhones violated Qualcomm patents to help smart phones run well without draining their batteries. Qualcomm asked for an import ban on some older iPhone models containing Intel chips. In September, Thomas Pender, an administrative law judge at the ITC, found that Apple violated one of the patents in the case but declined to issue a ban. Pender reasoned that imposing a ban on Intel-chipped iPhones would hand Qualcomm an effective monopoly on the U.S. market for modem chips, which connect smart phones to wireless data networks. Pender's ruling said that preserving competition in the modem chip market was in the public interest as speedier 5G networks come online in the next few years.

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Proposed Bill Would Force Arizonians To Pay $250 To Have Their DNA Added To a Database

technology_dude writes: One by one, thresholds are being crossed where the collection and storage of personal data is accepted as routine. Being recorded by cameras at business locations, in public transportation, in schools, churches, and every other place imaginable. Recent headlines include "Singapore Airlines having cameras built into the seat back of personal entertainment systems," and "Arizona considering a bill to force some public workers to give up DNA samples (and even pay for it)." It seems to be a daily occurrence where we have crossed another line in how far we will go to accept massive surveillance as normal. Do we even have a line the sand that we would defend? Do we even see anything wrong with it? Absolute power corrupts absolutely and we continue to give knowledge of our personal lives (power) to others. If we continue down the same path, I suppose we deserve what we get? I want to shout "Stop the train, I want off!" but I fear my plea would be ignored. So who out there is more optimistic than I and can recommend some reading that will give me hope? Bill 1475 was introduced by Republican State Senator David Livingston and would require teachers, police officers, child day care workers, and many others to submit their DNA samples along with fingerprints to be stored in a database maintained by the Department of Public Safety. "While the database would be prohibited from storing criminal or medical records alongside the DNA samples, it would require the samples be accompanied by the person's name, Social Security number, date of birth and last known address," reports Gizmodo. "The living will be required to pay [a $250 processing fee] for this invasion of their privacy, but any dead body that comes through a county medical examiner's office would also be fair game to be entered into the database."

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Neuroscientists Say They’ve Found An Entirely New Form of Neural Communication

Scientists think they've identified a previously unknown form of neural communication that self-propagates across brain tissue, and can leap wirelessly from neurons in one section of brain tissue to another -- even if they've been surgically severed. The discovery offers some radical new insights about the way neurons might be talking to one another, via a mysterious process unrelated to conventionally understood mechanisms, such as synaptic transmission, axonal transport, and gap junction connections. ScienceAlert reports: "We don't know yet the 'So what?' part of this discovery entirely," says neural and biomedical engineer Dominique Durand from Case Western Reserve University. "But we do know that this seems to be an entirely new form of communication in the brain, so we are very excited about this." To that end, Durand and his team investigated slow periodic activity in vitro, studying the brain waves in This neural activity can actually be modulated - strengthened or blocked - by applying weak electrical fields and could be an analogue form of another cell communication method, called ephaptic coupling. The team's most radical finding was that these electrical fields can activate neurons through a complete gap in severed brain tissue, when the two pieces remain in close physical proximity. slices extracted from decapitated mice. What they found was that slow periodic activity can generate electric fields which in turn activate neighboring cells, constituting a form of neural communication without chemical synaptic transmission or gap junctions. "To ensure that the slice was completely cut, the two pieces of tissue were separated and then rejoined while a clear gap was observed under the surgical microscope," the authors explain in their paper. "The slow hippocampal periodic activity could indeed generate an event on the other side of a complete cut through the whole slice." The findings are reported in The Journal of Physiology.

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FDA Warns Against Using Young Blood As Medical Treatment

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday against using plasma infusions from young blood donors to ward off the effects of normal aging as well as other more serious conditions. Plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, contains proteins that help clot blood. The infusions are promoted to treat a variety of conditions, including normal aging and memory loss as well as serious conditions such as dementia, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions, and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement Tuesday. "The reported uses of these products should not be assumed to be safe or effective," he added, noting that the FDA "strongly" discourages consumers from using this therapy "outside of clinical trials under appropriate institutional review board and regulatory oversight." Gottlieb said that "a growing number of clinics" are offering plasma from young donors and similar therapies, though he did not name any in particular.

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 Modem Is the 4G/5G Solution We’ve Been Waiting For

Qualcomm has unveiled its latest 5G modem, the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55. The chip is the company's second-generation 5G modem and successor to the Snapdragon X50 that was announced back in 2017. "Headline features of this new chip include multi-mode 4G and 5G in a single chip, blazing fast 7Gbps speeds, and futureproof support for the 5G Standalone specification," reports Android Authority. From the report: Starting with 5G, the chip supports both mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrum, just like its predecessor. Theoretical peak speeds are boosted from 5Gbps to 7Gbps download and up to 3Gbps upload. However, you'll need a perfect alignment of network conditions and capabilities to reach such lofty speeds. More important is the introduction of 5G FDD support. This will be crucial in Europe and other places looking to free up low-frequency spectrum (600 to 900MHz) for 5G. The Snapdragon X55 also introduces 4G/5G spectrum sharing, 100MHz envelope tracking for better power management, and antenna tuning in the sub-6GHz region. All very handy improvements over its first generation 5G modem. Perhaps the biggest point of all is that the X55 also supports the 5G Standalone (SA) specification. First-generation 5G networks and devices are all based on the earlier Non-Standalone (NSA) specification. Eventually, these will transition over to the SA standard. SA ditches the use of LTE networks for backend communication, transitioning over entirely to 5G. This opens up greater networking flexibility with Network Slicing and offers even lower latency for IoT and device-to-device communication. On the 4G side, the Snapdragon X55 supports the Category 22 LTE standard. This allows for peak throughput of 2.5Gbps, making it Qualcomm's most powerful 4G solution to date. The Snapdragon X55 also introduces Full Dimensional MIMO (FD-MIMO) for LTE. This includes 3D beamforming, allowing for improved elevation support to improve spectrum efficiency. Importantly, the Snapdragon X55 is built on a 7nm process rather than 10nm with the X50. The new modem isn't expected to appear in devices until late 2019 at the earliest. Android Authority suggests that the X55 will be featured inside 2019's next-gen Snapdragon 8XX processor, which should be officially announced at the end of the year, close to when Qualcomm expects the first X55 products. "In addition to the new modem, Qualcomm also announced its second-generation mmWave antenna and will be demoing its 5G technologies at MWC," reports Android Authority. "Dubbed the QTM525, the latest antenna module is slightly slimmer than the previous design and can be built into phones thinner than 8mm thick. It now covers 26, 28, and 39GHz mmWave spectrum and Qualcomm continues to suggest that three or four of these will be needed per 5G phone."

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China Has Abandoned a Cybersecurity Truce With the US, Report Says

Cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike says China has largely abandoned a hacking truce negotiated by Barack Obama as President Trump embarked on a trade war with Beijing last year. "A slowdown in Chinese hacking following the cybersecurity agreement Obama's administration secured in 2015 appears to have been reversed, the firm said in a report released Tuesday that reviewed cyber activity by U.S. adversaries in 2018," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The report comes as the Trump administration seeks to reach a trade deal with China, including provisions on intellectual property theft, ahead of a March 1 deadline. Trump has said he may extend that deadline and hold off on increasing tariffs on Chinese imports if there's progress in the talks. China's hacking targets in 2018 included telecommunications systems in the U.S. and Asia, according to Crowdstrike. Groups linked to Iran and Russia also appeared to target telecommunications, a sector that yields "the most bang for your buck" for hackers due to the large number of users that can be accessed after breaching a single network, Meyers said. The findings align with concern in the U.S. about telecommunications security as the country transitions to the next generation of mobile networks and the Trump administration seeks to secure so-called 5G technology from foreign intelligence gathering. The administration has expressed particular concern about the spread of products made by the Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co. The report also mentions the increased cyber activity in other parts of the world. "Iran focused much of its cyber activity on Middle Eastern and North African countries while Russia engaged in intelligence collection and information operations worldwide," the report says. "North Korea deployed hackers for financial gain and intelligence collection, while China targeted sectors including technology, manufacturing and hospitality."

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‘Samsung’s One UI Is the Best Software It’s Ever Put On a Smartphone’

In preparation for the Galaxy S10 launch event tomorrow, The Verge's Dieter Bohn writes about the new "One UI" software that will run on these new phones. After testing the software on a Galaxy S9 for the past week, Bohn says he really likes it, adding that it's better in some ways than the software found on Google's Pixel 3. "If it weren't for the fact that I don't yet trust Samsung to deliver major software updates quickly, I would be shouting about One UI from the rooftops," writes Bohn. "As it is, I just want to point out that it's time for us to stop instinctively turning our noses up at Samsung's version of Android." From the report: I can't go quite so far as to say that everything has changed forever when it comes to Samsung's customizations. There are still multiple versions of some apps because both Google and Samsung insist on having their software present. Samsung phones also have a reputation for getting a little laggy (the technical term is cruft) over time, and I don't know yet whether One UI and Android 9 will suffer the same fate. But I do know that one week in, this OS actually feels intentional and designed instead of just having a bunch of features tacked on. Historically, we've thought of all those customizations as unnecessary add-ons. But that's not quite right anymore -- customizing AOSP is necessary these days. Instead, we should judge a Samsung phone on its own merits as a phone, not as stuff bolted on to some idealized "pure" version of the phone that can't really exist anymore. One UI consists of four key parts. One is the basic update to Android 9 Pie, which means you'll get a ton of small features for free. Second, there is a generalized update to the look and feel -- everything is just a little cleaner and more tasteful than before. Samsung has realized that neon is only cool in small doses. Third, because this is Samsung, there are just a million features hidden in every corner of the OS. Some of them -- like a dark mode -- are genuinely useful. Others will remind people of the bad old days of TouchWiz. But overall Samsung is doing a better job of surfacing them progressively as you use the phone, instead of asking you to wade though arcane and opaquely named settings screens in the first 15 minutes of using the phone. The last big feature to talk about in One UI is the first one most people will notice: big, giant header text inside apps. When you open up an app like Messages or Settings you'll see the name of the app in a field of white (or black, in dark mode) that takes up the entire top half of the screen. When you scroll, though, the giant header shrinks down and you have a full screen of content. The last big feature to talk about in One UI is the first one most people will notice: big, giant header text inside apps. When you open up an app like Messages or Settings you'll see the name of the app in a field of white (or black, in dark mode) that takes up the entire top half of the screen. When you scroll, though, the giant header shrinks down and you have a full screen of content.

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How Streaming Music Could Be Harming the Planet

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Current digital technology gives us flawless music quality without physical deterioration. Music is easy to copy and upload, and can be streamed online without downloading. Since our digital music is less tangible than vinyl or CDs, surely it must be more environmentally friendly? Even though new formats are material-free, that doesn't mean they don't have an environmental impact. The electronic files we download are stored on active, cooled servers. The information is then retrieved and transmitted across the network to a router, which is transferred by wi-fi to our electronic devices. This happens every time we stream a track, which costs energy. Once vinyl or a CD is purchased, it can be played over and over again, the only carbon cost coming from running the record player. However, if we listen to our streamed music using a hi-fi sound system it's estimated to use 107 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, costing about $20 to run. A CD player uses 34.7 kilowatt hours a year and costs about $7 to run. So, which is the greener option? It depends on many things, including how many times you listen to your music. If you only listen to a track a couple of times, then streaming is the best option. If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best -- streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture a CD. If you want to reduce your impact on the environment, then vintage vinyl could be a great physical option. For online music, local storage on phones, computers or local network drives keeps the data closer to the user and will reduce the need for streaming over distance from remote severs across a power-hungry network.

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Grand Canyon Visitors May Have Been Exposed To Radiation For Years

joeflies writes: Park safety manager Elston Stephenson provides details about buckets of uranium that exposed visitors to radiation, and the subsequent cover up. The radiation was detected by a teenager that brought a Geiger counter to the building, and was subsequently "cleaned" up by employees equipped with dish washing gloves and a broken mop handle. "If you were in the Museum Collections Building (2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were 'exposed' to uranium by OSHA's definition," Stephenson wrote. "The radiation readings, at first blush, exceeds (sic) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safe limits. [...] Identifying who was exposed, and your exposure level, gets tricky and is our next important task." Stephenson said he had repeatedly asked National Park executives to inform the public, but never got a response. "According to Stephenson, the uranium specimens had been in a basement at park headquarters for decades and were moved to the museum building when it opened, around 2000," reports AZCentral. "One of the buckets was so full that its lid would not close. Stephenson said the containers were stored next to a taxidermy exhibit, where children on tours sometimes stopped for presentations, sitting next to uranium for 30 minutes or more. By his calculation, those children could have received radiation dosages in excess of federal safety standards within three seconds, and adults could have suffered dangerous exposure in less than a half-minute."

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Hollywood Tries To Cripple Several Alleged Pirate TV Services In One Lawsuit

The major Hollywood movie studios last week filed a copyright infringement suit against Omniverse One World Television Inc., which provides streaming video to several online TV services. Omniverse claims to have legal rights to the content, but the studios say it doesn't. Ars Technica reports: The complaint was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The studios previously used lawsuits to shut down the maker of a streaming device called the Dragon Box and another called TickBox. The studios' new lawsuit says that Omniverse supplied content to Dragon Box and to other alleged pirate services that are still operating. Services using Omniverse content are advertised as "Powered by Omniverse." Besides Dragon Box, they include "SkyStream TV, Flixon TV, and Silicon Dust's HDHomeRun Service," according to the lawsuit. SkyStream, for example, offers more than 70 live TV channels for $35 a month, while pricier packages, according to the complaint, also include premium channels such as HBO. SkyStream's website says its service "is delivered In Cooperation with Omniverse One World Television." According to its website, Omniverse "partners with key distributors across the USA to empower end users with the ability to view their favorite TV channels with no contracts, no credit checks, and no long-term obligations." [T]he movie studios' lawsuit alleges that Omniverse has no rights to distribute their video content. While Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube TV, and other legitimate streaming services purchase rights to the content, Omniverse has not, the lawsuit said. The complaint asks for an injunction shutting the company down and damages of up to $150,000 for each infringed work. "Defendant Jason DeMeo and his company, Omniverse, stream Plaintiffs' copyrighted movies and television shows without authorization to an already large, and rapidly growing, number of end users," the lawsuit said. "Defendants are not, however, just an infringing, consumer-facing service, akin to Dragon Box. Defendants operate at a higher level in the supply chain of infringing content -- recruiting numerous downstream services like Dragon Box into the illicit market and providing them with access to unauthorized streams of copyrighted content. Defendants function as a 'hub' of sorts, with the enlisted downstream services as the 'spokes.' Omniverse's offering is illegal, it is growing, and it undermines the legitimate market for licensed services."

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House Opens Inquiry Into Proposed US Nuclear Venture In Saudi Arabia

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: President Trump's former national security adviser and other White House officials pushed a venture to bring nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia over repeated legal and ethical warnings that potential conflicts of interest around the plan could put American security at risk, concluded a new report from House Democrats released on Tuesday. The 24-page report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee outlined actions taken in the early weeks of the Trump administration to secure government backing to have American companies build dozens of nuclear power plants across Saudi Arabia, potentially at the risk of spreading nuclear weapons technology. But House Democrats said there was evidence that as recently as last week, the White House was still considering the proposal. Claims presented by whistle-blowers and White House documents obtained by the committee show that the company backing the nuclear plan, IP3 International, and its allies in the White House were working so closely that the company sent a draft memo to the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, to circulate just days after the inauguration. Mr. Flynn had worked on the plan for IP3 during the Trump campaign and transition, the Democrats said, and continued to advocate for it in the White House. Even after Mr. Flynn left the White House in February 2017, officials on the National Security Council pushed ahead, the Democrats said, ignoring advice from the N.S.C.'s ethics counsel and other lawyers to cease all work on the plan because of potentially illegal conflicts. At a March 2017 meeting, a National Security Council aide tried to revive the IP3 plan "so that Jared Kushner can present it to the President for approval," the Democratic report said, a reference to Mr. Trump's son-in-law and top adviser. The draft memo also referenced another close Trump associate, Thomas J. Barrack, who served as chairman of the president's inaugural committee. It said that Mr. Trump had appointed Mr. Barrack as a special representative to implement the plan, which it called "the Middle East Marshall Plan." The memo also directed agencies to support Mr. Barrack's efforts.

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Academics Confirm Major Predictive Policing Algorithm Is Fundamentally Flawed

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Last week, Motherboard published an investigation which revealed that law enforcement agencies around the country are using PredPol -- a predictive policing software that once cited the controversial, unproven "broken windows" policing theory as a part of its best practices. Our report showed that local police in Kansas, Washington, South Carolina, California, Georgia, Utah, and Michigan are using or have used the software. In a 2014 presentation to police departments obtained by Motherboard, the company says that the software is "based on nearly seven years of detailed academic research into the causes of crime pattern formation the mathematics looks complicated -- and it is complicated for normal mortal humans -- but the behaviors upon which the math is based are very understandable." The company says those behaviors are "repeat victimization" of an address, "near-repeat victimization" (the proximity of other addresses to previously reported crimes), and "local search" (criminals are likely to commit crimes near their homes or near other crimes they've committed, PredPol says.) But academics Motherboard spoke to say that the mathematical theory that is used to power PredPol is flawed, and that its algorithm -- at least as pitched to police -- is far too simplistic to actually predict crime. Kristian Lum, who co-wrote a 2016 paper that tested the algorithmic mechanisms of PredPol with real crime data, told Motherboard in a phone call that although PredPol is powered by complicated-looking mathematical formulas, its actual function can be summarized as a moving average -- or an average of subsets within a data set. "The academic foundation for PredPol's software takes a statistical modeling method used to predict earthquakes and apply it to crime," reports Motherboard. "Much like how earthquakes are likely to appear in similar places, the papers argue, crimes are also likely to occur in similar places. Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a professor of computing at the University of Utah and a member of the board of directors for ACLU Utah, told Motherboard that earthquake data and crime data are, naturally, collected in different ways." "I would say in our mind, the key difference is that in earthquake models, you have seismographs everywhere -- wherever an earthquake happens, you'll find it," Venkatasubramanian said. "The crux of the issue really is that to what extent are you able to get data about what you're observing that is not also totally on the model itself." "If you build predictive policing, you are essentially sending police to certain neighborhoods based on what what they told you -- but that also means you're not sending police to other neighborhoods because the system didn't tell you to go there," Venkatasubramanian said. "If you assume that the data collection for your system is generated by police whom you sent to certain neighborhoods, then essentially your model is controlling the next round of data you get."

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Chicago Mayor Releases Roadmap For Transitioning To 100 Percent Renewable Energy By 2035

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual has released a roadmap for transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2035 and to an electric Chicago Transit Authority bus fleet by 2040. The move is especially noteworthy as there are 11 nuclear reactors in operation in Illinois. From a report: Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled the Resilient Chicago plan, which with action number 38 commits to "transition to 100% clean, renewable energy in buildings community-wide by 2035." The deadline for all city government buildings to be powered solely by renewables, first established in 2017, has been brought forward to 2025. The policy has been introduced as part of environmental group the Sierra Club's "Ready for 100" campaign, and Chicago is the largest city to join the effort to date. (Editor's note: While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced his city is on a path to 100% renewable energy, it is not clear if the formal goal is 100% renewable or 100% zero-carbon, and LA is not included in the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 list.) The language of the Resilient Chicago text says "clean, renewable energy," and the Sierra Club does not include nuclear as part of its Ready to 100 campaign. The new policy is a particularly interesting move for Emanuel, once considered one of the more pro-nuclear politicians in the Democratic Party, and a man who brokered the deal that created Exelon. Were Chicago to include nuclear in a 2035 target, it would require either buying power from existing plants instead of investing in new generation, or starting new nuclear plants within six years. Given the high cost of nuclear compared to wind and solar, few decision makers are contemplating that option.

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Gravitational Wave Detectors Upgraded To Hunt For ‘Extreme Cosmic Events’

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) facilities, residing in Washington and Louisiana, will be upgraded via grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, UK Research and Innovation and the Australian Research Council -- providing stronger, more frequent detections and decreasing noise. CNET reports: Over $34 million will be provided for the upgrade which makes LIGO sound like the latest iPhone. When it is complete, LIGO will go from its crusty old 2015 "Advanced LIGO" phase to the "Advanced LIGO Plus" phase. LIGO's twin facilities both contain two 4-kilometer long arms that use lasers to detect minute disturbances caused by extremely energetic cosmic events -- like black holes merging. The incredibly high-powered events are responsible for gravitational waves, rippling out through spacetime the same way water does when you drop a rock in a pond. By the time they reach Earth, the ripples are so small that only incredibly tiny disturbances in LIGO's lasers can detect them. The proposed upgrades will greatly increase the number of events that LIGO will detect. With only 11 under its belt so far, [David Reitze, executive director of LIGO] even expects we might see "black hole mergers on a daily basis" and describes neutron star mergers becoming "much more frequent." All that extra power adds up, hopefully revealing some of the cosmos' deepest, darkest secrets. In September 2015, LIGO provided the first evidence for a black hole merger -- and in turn, the existence of gravitational waves -- just four days after a three-year long upgrade. Since then, LIGO has seen 10 black hole mergers and a single, huge collision between two incredibly dense stars, known as neutron stars.

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Researchers Are Working With NASA To See If Comedians Help Team Cohesion On Long Space Missions

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: [R]esearchers have found that the success of a future mission to the red planet may depend on the ship having a class clown. "These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale," said Jeffrey Johnson, an anthropologist at the University of Florida. "When you're living with others in a confined space for a long period of time, such as on a mission to Mars, tensions are likely to fray. It's vital you have somebody who can help everyone get along, so they can do their jobs and get there and back safely. It's mission critical." Johnson spent four years studying overwintering crews in Antarctica and identified the importance of clowns, leaders, buddies, storytellers, peacemakers and counsellors for bonding teams together and making them work smoothly. He found the same mixes worked in U.S., Russian, Polish, Chinese and Indian bases. "These roles are informal, they emerge within the group. But the interesting thing is that if you have the right combination the group does very well. And if you don't, the group does very badly," he said. Johnson is now working with Nasa to explore whether clowns and other characters are crucial for the success of long space missions. So far he has monitored four groups of astronauts who spent 30 to 60 days in the agency's mock space habitat, the Human Exploration Research Analog, or Hera, in Houston, Texas. Johnson, who also studied isolated salmon fishers in Alaska, found that clowns were often willing to be the butt of jokes and pranks. In Antarctica, one clown he observed endured a mock funeral and burial in the tundra, but was crucial for building bridges between clusters of overwintering scientists and between contractors and researchers, or "beakers" as the contractors called them.

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New Drug Rapidly Repairs Age-Related Memory Loss, Improves Mood

A team of Canadian scientists has developed a fascinating new experimental drug that is purported to result in rapid improvements to both mood and memory following extensive animal testing. It's hoped the drug will move to human trials within the next two years. New Atlas reports: Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a key neurotransmitter, and when altered it can play a role in the development of everything from psychiatric conditions to cognitive degeneration. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium, are a class of drugs well known to function by modulating the brain's GABA systems. This new research describes the development of several new molecules that are structurally based on benzodiazepines, but with small tweaks to enhance their ability to specifically target certain brain areas. The goal was to create a new therapeutic agent that can effectively combat age-related mood and memory alterations caused by disruptions in the GABA systems. In animal tests the drug has been found to be remarkably effective, with old mice displaying rapid improvements in memory tests within an hour of administration, resulting in performance similar to that of young mice. Daily administration of the drug over two months was also seen to result in an actual structural regrowth of brain cells, returning their brains to a state that resembles a young animal. The new study was published in the journal Molecular Neuropsychiatry.

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Samsung’s New Galaxy Tab S5e Is Its Lightest and Thinnest Tablet Ever

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Tab S5e, its lightest and thinnest tablet ever made. "At $399, it's not only far more affordable than the flagship $649 Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, it's arguably surpassed it in some ways," reports The Verge. From the report: For starters, the Tab S5e has the thinnest and lightest metal unibody of any Galaxy Tab, measuring 5.5mm thin and weighing just 400 grams -- even compared to the 11-inch iPad Pro at 5.9mm thick and 468 grams, the Tab S5e is both lighter and thinner. The company also claims they've maximized space with the Tab S5e's massive 81.8 percent screen-to-body ratio, which on paper, is an improvement over the Tab S4's lower 79 percent ratio. It's also right on the heels of the 11-inch iPad Pro's ~82.9 percent screen-to-body ratio. And unlike Samsung's previous attempt to make its 10.5-inch tablet more affordable, this slate doesn't skimp on the screen and not nearly as much on the processor. Samsung's Tab S5e is a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED device with a 16:10 aspect ratio and 2560 x 1600 resolution, while its octa-core Snapdragon 670 processor should provide solid mid-range performance. Samsung's also promising up to 14.5 hours of battery life. The Tab S5e is also the first tablet from the Korean tech giant to ship with Pie, the latest version of Android, along with the new Bixby 2.0 virtual assistant and information tool. Samsung is also carrying features like Dex, a desktop-style Android environment, over from other Galaxy devices, like the Note 9 and Tab S4. It allows users to interact with their device using the screen, a mouse, keyboard, or all three. Other features include AKG-tuned, quad surround sound speakers, 64GB of internal storage (microSD expandable to 512GB), with 4GB RAM (upgradable to 6GB RAM/128GB storage), and 13-megapixel back and 8-megapixel front-facing cameras. Cellular models will follow the Wi-Fi versions later this year.

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18,000 Android Apps Track Users By Violating Advertising ID Policies

18,000 Android apps with tens or hundreds of millions of installs on the Google Play Store have been found to violate Google's Play Store Advertising ID policy guidance by collecting persistent device identifiers such as serial numbers, IMEI, WiFi MAC addresses, SIM card serial numbers, and sending them to mobile advertising related domains alongside ad IDs. Bleeping Computer reports: AppCensus is an organization based in Berkeley, California, and created by researchers from all over the world with expertise in a wide range of fields, ranging from networking and privacy to security and usability. The project is supported by "grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Data Transparency Lab." By highlighting this behavior, AppCensus shows that while users are being offered the option to reset the advertising ID, doing so will not immediately translate into getting a new "identity" because app developers can also use a multitude of other identifiers to keep their tracking and targeting going. Google did not yet respond to a report sent by AppCensus in September 2018 containing a list of 17,000 Android apps that send persistent identifiers together with ad IDs to various advertising networks, also attaching a list of 30 recipient mobile advertising related domains where the various IDs were being sent. While looking at the network packets sent between the apps and these 30 domains, AppCensus observed that "they are either being used to place ads in apps, or track user engagement with ads." In a statement to CNET, a Google spokesperson said: "We take these issues very seriously. Combining Ad ID with device identifiers for the purpose of ads personalization is strictly forbidden. We're constantly reviewing apps -- including those listed in the researcher's report -- and will take action when they do not comply with our policies." Some of the most popular applications found to be violating Google's Usage of Android Adverting ID policies include Clean Master, Subway Surfers, Fliboard, My Talking Tom, Temple Run 2, and Angry Birds Classic. The list goes on and on, and the last app in the "Top 20" list still has over 100 million installations.

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Even Years Later, Twitter Doesn’t Delete Your Direct Messages

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Twitter retains direct messages for years, including messages you and others have deleted, but also data sent to and from accounts that have been deactivated and suspended, according to security researcher Karan Saini. Saini found years-old messages in a file from an archive of his data obtained through the website from accounts that were no longer on Twitter. He also reported a similar bug, found a year earlier but not disclosed until now, that allowed him to use a since-deprecated API to retrieve direct messages even after a message was deleted from both the sender and the recipient -- though, the bug wasn't able to retrieve messages from suspended accounts. Direct messages once let users "unsend" messages from someone else's inbox, simply by deleting it from their own. Twitter changed this years ago, and now only allows a user to delete messages from their account. "Others in the conversation will still be able to see direct messages or conversations that you have deleted," Twitter says in a help page. Twitter also says in its privacy policy that anyone wanting to leave the service can have their account "deactivated and then deleted." After a 30-day grace period, the account disappears, along with its data. But, in our tests, we could recover direct messages from years ago -- including old messages that had since been lost to suspended or deleted accounts. By downloading your account's data, it's possible to download all of the data Twitter stores on you. A Twitter spokesperson said the company was "looking into this further to ensure we have considered the entire scope of the issue."

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Huge Study Finds Professors’ Attitudes Affect Students’ Grades

A huge study at Indiana University, led by Elizabeth Canning, finds that the attitudes of instructors affect the grades their students earned in classes. The researchers conducted their study by sending out a simple survey to all the instructors of STEM courses at Indiana University, asking whether professors felt that a student's intelligence is fixed and unchanging or whether they thought it could be developed. Then, the researchers were given access to two years' worth of students' grades in those instructors' classes, covering a total of 15,000 students. Ars Technica reports: The results showed a surprising difference between the professors who agreed that intelligence is fixed and those who disagreed (referred to as "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset" professors). In classes taught by fixed mindset instructors, Latino, African-American, and Native American students averaged grades 0.19 grade points (out of four) lower than white and Asian-American students. But in classes taught by "growth mindset" instructors, the gap dropped to just 0.10 grade points. No other factor the researchers analyzed showed a statistically significant difference among classes -- not the instructors' experience, tenure status, gender, specific department, or even ethnicity. Yet their belief about whether a students' intelligence is fixed seems to have had a sizable effect. The students' course evaluations contain possible clues. Students reported less "motivation to do their best work" in the classes taught by fixed mindset professors, and they also gave lower ratings for a question about whether their professor "emphasize[d] learning and development." Students were less likely to say they'd recommend the professor to others, as well. Is it possible that the fixed mindset professors just happen to teach the hardest classes? The student evaluations also include a question about how much time the course required -- the average answer was slightly higher for fixed mindset professors, but the difference was not statistically significant. Instead, the researchers think the data suggests that -- in any number of small ways -- instructors who think their students' intelligence is fixed don't keep their students as motivated, and perhaps don't focus as much on teaching techniques that can encourage growth. And while this affects all students, it seems to have an extra impact on underrepresented minority students.

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Samsung To Stop Making 4K Blu-Ray Players, Report Says

According to a report from Forbes, Samsung may be exiting the 4K Blu-ray player market. "After launching its first 4K players in 2017, the company didn't add any new players to its lineup in 2018," reports CNET. "A high-end player for 2019 along the lines of its UBD-M9500 was in the works, the report says, but has now been scrapped." From the report: One of the reasons for pulling out could be that the existing players' format support has lagged behind the rest of the industry. For example, instead of supporting Dolby Vision, Samsung created its own version of HDR10, HDR10+, which was designed for use in streaming and physical media. Competitor Oppo was the first company to support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision but announced it was ending production of its 4K Blu-ray players in April 2018. Meanwhile Sony announced the M2 player at CES 2019 with support for Dolby Vision and Panasonic recently released the high-end DP-UB9000 player in Europe and Australia.

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US Labor Organization AFL-CIO Urges Game Developers To Unionize In Open Letter

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gamasutra: In the wake of Activision Blizzard's massive layoff wave, a move that was announced in the same call as the company's record quarter, the union federation AFL-CIO has published an open letter to game developers urging members of the industry to organize. The AFL-CIO itself is the largest labor organization in the United States and counts 55 individual unions (and more than 12.5 million workers) among its affiliates. The letter, readable in full on Kotaku, calls out many of the issues that have prompted conversations about unionization in just recent years like excessive crunch, toxic work conditions, inadequate pay, and job instability. The industry, points out AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler, boasted sales 3.6 times greater than those of the film industry in 2018, yet much of that financial success isn't felt by the developers working on the games that generate those billions. "Executives are always quick to brag about your work. It's the talk of every industry corner office and boardroom. They pay tribute to the games that capture our imaginations and seem to defy economic gravity. They talk up the latest innovations in virtual reality and celebrate record-smashing releases, as your creations reach unparalleled new heights," says Shuler. "My question is this: what have you gotten in return? They get rich. They get notoriety. They get to be crowned visionaries and regarded as pioneers. What do you get? Outrageous hours and inadequate paychecks. Stressful, toxic work conditions that push you to your physical and mental limits. The fear that asking for better means risking your dream job. [...] Change will happen when you gain leverage by joining together in a strong union. And, it will happen when you use your collective voice to bargain for a fair share of the wealth you create every day. No matter where you work, bosses will only offer fair treatment when you stand together and demand it."

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Facebook Settlement With FTC Could Run Into the Billions

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission are discussing a settlement over privacy violations that could amount to a record, multibillion-dollar fine, according to three people with knowledge of the talks. The company and the F.T.C.'s consumer protection and enforcement staff have been in negotiations over a financial penalty for claims that Facebook violated a 2011 privacy consent decree with the agency, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is private. In 2011, Facebook promised a series of measures to protect user privacy after an investigation found it had harmed consumers with its handling of user data. The current talks have not yet reached the F.T.C.'s five commissioners for a vote and it is unclear how close the two sides are to wrapping up the nearly 11-month investigation. The commissioners met in mid-December and were updated by staff members that they had at that point found considerable evidence of violations of the 2011 consent decree. The FTC investigation into Facebook began after it was reported that the information of 87 million users had been harvested by a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, without their permission. The agency could seek up to $41,000 for each violation found.

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8-Character Windows NTLM Passwords Can Be Cracked In Under 2.5 Hours

HashCat, an open-source password recovery tool, can now crack an eight-character Windows NTLM password hash in less than 2.5 hours. "Current password cracking benchmarks show that the minimum eight character password, no matter how complex, can be cracked in less than 2.5 hours" using a hardware rig that utilizes eight Nvidia GTX 2080Ti GPUs, explained a hacker who goes by the pseudonym Tinker on Twitter in a DM conversation with The Register. "The eight character password is dead." From the report: It's dead at least in the context of hacking attacks on organizations that rely on Windows and Active Directory. NTLM is an old Microsoft authentication protocol that has since been replaced with Kerberos. According to Tinker, it's still used for storing Windows passwords locally or in the NTDS.dit file in Active Directory Domain Controllers. It's dead at least in the context of hacking attacks on organizations that rely on Windows and Active Directory. NTLM is an old Microsoft authentication protocol that has since been replaced with Kerberos. According to Tinker, it's still used for storing Windows passwords locally or in the NTDS.dit file in Active Directory Domain Controllers. Tinker estimates that buying the GPU power described would require about $10,000; others have claimed the necessary computer power to crack an eight-character NTLM password hash can be rented in Amazon's cloud for just $25. NIST's latest guidelines say passwords should be at least eight characters long. Some online service providers don't even demand that much. When security researcher Troy Hunt examined the minimum password lengths at various websites last year, he found that while Google, Microsoft and Yahoo set the bar at eight, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter only required six. Tinker said the eight character password was used as a benchmark because it's what many organizations recommend as the minimum password length and many corporate IT policies reflect that guidance. So how long is long enough to sleep soundly until the next technical advance changes everything? Tinker recommends a random five-word passphrase, something along the lines of the four-word example popularized by online comic XKCD, "correcthorsebatterystaple." That or whatever maximum length random password via a password management app, with two-factor authentication enabled in either case.

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James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel Released After Sixteen Years

Slashdot reader Drakster writes: Hollywood producer and writer James Cameron, who is best known for his first two Terminator films, Titanic, Avatar, and Aliens, has released his most recent film this week, Alita: Battle Angel, to mostly mixed to positive reviews. First announced in 2003, based on Yukito Kishiro's Gunnm manga series, it was stuck in development for several years, finally starting production in 2008. Slashdot last discussed this fifteen years ago, so now that it's finally here. For those who have seen it, what did you think? Met or surpassed your expectations, or not worth the wait?

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Renewables Will Be World’s Main Power Source By 2040, Says BP

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: In a not-too-distant future, renewable energy becomes the world's biggest source of power generation. A quarter of the distances that humans travel by vehicle will be in electric cars. U.S. dominance in the oil market begins to wane, and OPEC's influence is resurgent, as crude demand finally peaks. That is the vision laid out by British oil and gas giant BP on Thursday in its latest Annual Energy Outlook. The closely followed report lays out a vision through 2040 for Earth's energy future, provided government policy, technology and consumer preferences evolve in line with recent trends. BP forecasts that the world's energy demand will grow by a third through 2040, driven by rising consumption in China, India and other parts of Asia. About 75 percent of that increase will come from the need to power industry and buildings. At the same time, energy demand will continue to grow in the transportation sector, but that growth will slow sharply as vehicles become more efficient and more consumers opt for electric cars. But despite the increase in supply, BP thinks two-thirds of the world's population will still live in places with relatively low energy consumption per head. The takeaway: The world will need to generate more energy. The report says natural gas consumption will grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years, increasing in virtually every corner of the globe. "Throughout most of that time, the world will continue to consume more oil year after year, until demand ultimately peaks around 108 million barrels per day in the 2030s," reports CNBC. "This year, OPEC expects global oil demand to reach 100 million bpd." Meanwhile, coal consumption is forecasted to flatline, as China and developed countries quit the fossil fuel in favor of cleaner-burning and renewable energy sources. "However, BP sees India and other Asian nations burning more coal to meet surging power demand as the nations become more prosperous," reports CNBC.

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Common Weed Killer Glyphosate Increases Risk of Cancer By 41 Percent, Study Says

A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weedkilling products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Guardian reports: The evidence "supports a compelling link" between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution. Monsanto maintains there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. Company officials say the EPA's finding that glyphosate is "not likely" to cause cancer is backed by hundreds of studies finding no such connection. But the new analysis could potentially complicate Monsanto's defense of its top-selling herbicide. Three of the study authors were tapped by the EPA as board members for a 2016 scientific advisory panel on glyphosate. The new paper was published by the journal Mutation Research /Reviews in Mutation Research, whose editor in chief is EPA scientist David DeMarini. [...] The study authors said their new meta-analysis evaluated all published human studies, including a 2018 updated government-funded study known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS). Monsanto has cited the updated AHS study as proving that there is no tie between glyphosate and NHL. In conducting the new meta-analysis, the researchers said they focused on the highest exposed group in each study because those individuals would be most likely to have an elevated risk if in fact glyphosate herbicides cause NHL.

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Ask Slashdot: Could Android and iOS Become Popular Desktop Operating Systems?

dryriver writes: For many older people, you use Windows, macOS, or Linux on the desktop, and Android or iOS on mobile devices. Nobody is screaming for an Android desktop PC or an iOS 17.3-inch laptop computer. But what about younger generations growing up, from a very young age, glued to devices with these two mobile operating systems running on it? Will they want to use Windows, macOS, or Linux just like us old farts when they grow older, or will they want their favorite mobile operating systems running -- in a beefed up and more robust form -- on desktop and laptop computers which they use for school, college, and/or work as well? Since we are on this topic -- could Android or iOS one day become reasonably usable desktop operating systems from an architectural standpoint? And could Google and Apple already be planning for an "Android and iOS on the desktop" computing future, without telling anyone about it publicly?

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Year-Over-Year Smartwatch Sales Jumped By 61% In the US Last Year

New research from The NPD Group reveals that the smartwatch market overall is growing at an impressive rate and that the Apple Watch remains the best-selling wearable on the market. "Specifically, year-over-year smartwatch unit sales in the U.S. jumped by 61% while revenue jumped by 51%," reports BGR. "As for specific revenue figures, the report relays that smartwatch revenue from November of 2017 through November of 2018 checked in at $5 billion. One particularly interesting data point is that 88% of all smartwatch sales can be attributed to Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit." From the report: "Over the last 18 months smartwatch sales gained strong momentum, proving the naysayers, who didn't think the category could achieve mainstream acceptance, had potentially judged too soon," NPD analyst Weston Henderek said in a press release. "The ability to be truly connected via built-in LTE without the need to have a smartphone nearby proved to be a tipping point for consumers, as they now recognize the value in being able to complete a wide range of tasks on the device including receiving notifications, messaging, accessing smart home controls, and more." Indeed, Apple executives have pointed to the inclusion of LTE connectivity on the Apple Watch Series 3 as a huge selling point. Notably, Apple Watch sales during the 2017 holiday quarter were record-breaking. More recently, Tim Cook said that revenue from Apple wearables line jumped by 50% "thanks to strong sales of both Apple Watch and AirPods."

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Insurance Giant Allstate Buys Independent Phone Repair Company, Joins Right To Repair Movement

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Allstate, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, just made a curious purchase. Through its subsidiary SquareTrade, the insurance giant bought iCracked, one of the largest independent smartphone repair companies in the country. The acquisition means that Allstate has become one of the most powerful proponents of right to repair legislation in the United States. According to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org, which is pushing for the legislation, the company has already loaned a lobbyist to the effort in New Hampshire. This is potentially big news for the right to repair movement, which is trying to get laws passed in 15 states this year that would make it easier for independent repair professionals to get repair tools and parts for consumer electronics. Thus far, it's been largely a grassroots effort from organizations like Repair.org and iFixit. Companies such as Apple, John Deere, Facebook, Microsoft, and trade organizations that represent huge tech companies have used their considerable political power to lobby against these bills. But Allstate's purchase of iCracked is a potential gamechanger. iCracked is a giant chain that does a lot of third party repairs. A change in the laws would benefit it, and now Allstate, as much as the average consumer. "iCracked has been a major supporter of right to repair, and we really appreciate their valuable contribution to the fight for freedom," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told Motherboard in an email. "I'm optimistic that this partnership will elevate the visibility of the work that we're doing together." "SquareTrade continues to work with manufacturers as well as the independent repair community," Jason Siciliano, VP and Global Creative Director of SquareTrade told me in an email. "As this issue evolves, we will maintain good relationships and continue to listen to the key players on all sides of the debate and will work towards sensible solutions whether they are led by the industry or regulators."

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Opera Shows Off Its Smart New Redesign That’s Just Like All the Other Browsers

Opera has unveiled a major redesign for its browser that's expected to ship in version 59. As Peter Bright writes via Ars Technica, "the new appearance adopts the same square edges and clean lines that we've seen in other browsers, giving the browser a passing similarity to both Firefox and Edge." From the report: The principles of the new design? "We put Web content at center stage," the Opera team writes on its blog. The design is pared down so that you can browse "unhindered by unnecessary distractions." Borders and dividing lines have been removed, flattening out parts of the browser's interface and making them look more uniform and less eye-catching. The new design comes with the requisite dark and light modes, a welcome trend that we're glad to see is being widely adopted. Being Web-centric is not a bad principle for an application such as a browser, where the bulk of the functionality and interest comes from the pages we're viewing rather than the browser itself. At first blush, I think that Opera has come up with something that looks good, but it does feel like an awfully familiar design rationale. [...] Opera plans to ship the R3 release in March, and a developer preview can be downloaded today to give the new appearance a spin. The new design isn't the only notable feature of R3; it also integrates a crypto wallet for Ethereum transactions. In conjunction with Opera on your phone, this feature can be used to securely make online payments to sites using Coinbase Commerce for their payment processing.

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The LG G8 Has a Vibrating OLED Screen For a Speaker

LG's next upcoming flagship smartphone is the LG G8, which is expected to debut at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month. While much of the phone is similar to last year's model, LG yesterday announced some news on the phone's audio capabilities. "The phone uses the same 'Crystal Sound OLED' branding that LG has used on some of its TVs before; this means that the entire display will vibrate to work as a speaker, which was previously rumored," reports The Verge. "The news also confirms that the G8 will be the first flagship G-series phone not to use an LCD." From the report: The G8 still has a bottom-facing speaker for louder use cases like speakerphone calls, and LG says this can be paired with the top part of the screen for 2-channel stereo sound. Elsewhere, the signature quad DAC from LG's recent flagship phones returns -- which means there'll be a headphone jack -- as does the "Boombox Speaker" functionality that produces surprisingly bassy sound when the phone is placed on a table. LG has already confirmed that the G8 will have a front-facing 3D camera with a time-of-flight sensor, while rumors suggest there could be an optional second screen accessory.

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Hacker Who Stole 620 Million Records Strikes Again, Stealing 127 Million More

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A hacker who stole close to 620 million user records from 16 websites has stolen another 127 million records from eight more websites, TechCrunch has learned. The hacker, whose listing was the previously disclosed data for about $20,000 in bitcoin on a dark web marketplace, stole the data last year from several major sites -- some that had already been disclosed, like more than 151 million records from MyFitnessPal and 25 million records from Animoto. But several other hacked sites on the marketplace listing didn't know or hadn't disclosed yet -- such as 500px and Coffee Meets Bagel. The Register, which first reported the story, said the data included names, email addresses and scrambled passwords, and in some cases other login and account data -- though no financial data was included. Now the same hacker has eight additional marketplace entries after their original listings were pulled offline, including: - 18 million records from travel booking site Ixigo - Live-video streaming site YouNow had 40 million records stolen - Houzz, which recently disclosed a data breach, is listed with 57 million records stolen - Ge.tt had 1.8 million accounts stolen - 450,000 records from cryptocurrency site Coinmama. - Roll20, a gaming site, had 4 million records listed - Stronghold Kingdoms, a multiplayer online game, had 5 million records listed - 1 million records from pet care delivery service PetFlow

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Smart Cat Shelter Uses AI To Let Strays Inside, Keep Dogs Out

"China's top search engine company Baidu made a smart cat shelter in Beijing that uses AI to verify when a cat is approaching and open its door," writes Slashdot reader AmiMoJo. "The cat shelter is heated and also offers cats food and water." Mashable reports: It can accurately identify 174 different cat breeds, as to let them enter and exit as they please. A door will slide open if the camera spots a cat, but it won't work on dogs. Multiple cats can fit inside the space. Another neat camera feature is that it can be also used to detect if the cat is sick -- it can identify four common cat diseases, such as inflammation, skin problems, and physical trauma. Once a cat is identified as needing care, associated volunteers can be informed to come and collect it. "Homeless cats often struggle to survive the winter in Beijing, and even though volunteers feed them their water bowls freeze over in the cold," adds AmiMoJo. "Due to many people living in apartments that don't allow pets, they can't simply bring the cats home." Baidu has a blog post detailing the shelter and its use of artificial intelligence.

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Airbus Is Giving Up On the A380

"It's the end of the line for the biggest passenger jet ever built: the A380 is going to cease production," writes Slashdot reader Required Snark, citing a report from CNN. From the report: The European plane maker said Thursday that it will stop delivering A380s in 2021 after its key customer, Dubai-based airline Emirates, slashed its orders for the huge jetliner. "We have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years," Airbus CEO Tom Enders said in a company statement. The company has delivered 234 of the superjumbos to date, less than a quarter of the 1,200 it predicted it would sell when it first introduced the double-decker aircraft. Its plans were undermined by airlines shifting their interest to lighter, more fuel efficient passenger jets that have reduced the need to ferry passengers between the big hubs. "Passengers all over the world love to fly on this great aircraft. Hence today's announcement is painful for us and the A380 communities worldwide," Enders said. "But keep in mind that A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come and Airbus will of course continue to fully support the A380 operators."

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Personal Information of 14.8 Million 500px Users Exposed In Security Breach

Photo-sharing service 500px has announced that it was the victim of a hack back in July 2018 and that personal data was exposed for all the roughly 14.8 million accounts that existed at the time. PetaPixel reports: In an email sent out to users and an announcement posted to its website, 500px states that it was only on February 8th, 2019, that its team learned of an unauthorized intrusion to its system that occurred on or around July 5th, 2018. The personal data that may have been stolen by the intruder includes first and last names, usernames, email addresses, password hashes (i.e. not plaintext passwords), location (i.e. city, state, country), birth date, and gender. The company has reset all 500px account passwords, so to get back into your account you'll need to pick a new one using the recovery email system. "At this time, there is no indication of unauthorized access to your account, and no evidence that other data associated with your user profile was affected, such as credit card information (which is not stored on our servers), if used to make any purchases, or any other sensitive personal information," 500px says. "We recommend you change your password on any other website or app on which you use a password that is the same as or similar to your password for your 500px account," 500px says.

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Your GPS Devices May Stop Working On April 6 If You Don’t Or Can’t Update Firmware

Zorro shares a report from The Register: Older satnavs and such devices won't be able to use America's Global Positioning System properly after April 6 unless they've been suitably updated or designed to handle a looming epoch rollover. GPS signals from satellites include a timestamp, needed in part to calculate one's location, that stores the week number using ten binary bits. That means the week number can have 210 or 1,024 integer values, counting from zero to 1,023 in this case. Every 1,024 weeks, or roughly every 20 years, the counter rolls over from 1,023 to zero. The first Saturday in April will mark the end of the 1,024th week, after which the counter will spill over from 1,023 to zero. The last time the week number overflowed like this was in 1999, nearly two decades on from the first epoch in January 1980. You can see where this is going. If devices in use today are not designed or patched to handle this latest rollover, they will revert to an earlier year after that 1,024th week in April, causing attempts to calculate position to potentially fail. System and navigation data could even be corrupted, we're warned. U.S. Homeland Security explained the issue in a write-up this week. GPS.gov also notes that the new CNAV and MNAV message formats will use a 13-bit week number, so this issue shouldn't happen again anytime soon. The site recommend users consult the manufacturer of their equipment to make sure they have the proper updates in place.

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Electric Car Batteries Might Be Worth Recycling, But Bus Batteries Aren’t Yet

Iwastheone shares a report from Ars Technica: Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper in Nature Sustainability this week that looks at the emissions and economic costs associated with recycling automotive batteries. They specifically addressed batteries with three types of cathode chemistry: nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA), and iron phosphate (LFP). The first two cathode chemistries are common in passenger vehicles, and LFP is common in buses (bus maker BYD uses LFP batteries, for example). Since the packaging of batteries is important to the recycling method, cylindrical batteries (the types of cells that Tesla makes) are compared to pouch cell batteries in the analysis. The researchers also compared recycling methods. These include pyrometallurgical recycling (exposing the valuable parts of the battery to high temperatures and then recovering those metals as alloys), hydrometallurgical recycling (leaching valuable metals from batteries and separating the desired metals from the resulting solution), and "direct cathode recycling," where the battery's cathode is retained as-is, but new lithium is added in such a way that the battery regains its original performance. Ultimately, LFP-cathode batteries were not able to avoid additional emissions under any recycling circumstances. The iron materials used in those bus batteries are already efficient to mine, the paper notes. This results "in a smaller GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions offset from the recovered materials that is insufficient to offset the energy and GHG emissions associated with the recycling processes considered." For now, new bus batteries seem to be cheaper and better for the environment than recycled bus batteries. The story is more complicated for electric passenger vehicle batteries, however. For both NMC and NCA cells, hydrometallurgical and direct cathode removal recycling methods do result in a reduction of GHG emissions, but only recycling via direct cathode removal with pouch cells shows a statistically significant reduction in emissions.

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Netflix Has Saved Every Choice You’ve Ever Made In ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’

According to a technology policy researcher, Netflix records all the choices you make in Black Mirror's Bandersnatch episode. "Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, wanted to know what data Netflix was collecting from Bandersnatch," reports Motherboard. "People had been speculating a lot on Twitter about Netflix's motivations," Veale told Motherboard in an email. "I thought it would be a fun test to show people how you can use data protection law to ask real questions you have." From the report: The law Veale used is Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR granted EU citizens a right to access -- anyone can request a wealth of information from a company collecting data. Users can formally request a company such as Netflix tell them the reason its collecting data, the categories they're sorting data into, third parties it's sharing the data with, and other information. Veale used this right of access to ask Netflix questions about Bandersnatch and revealed the answers in a Twitter thread. He found that Netflix is tracking the decisions its users make (which makes sense considering how the film works), and that it is keeping those decisions long after a user has finished the film. It is also stores aggregated forms of the users choice to "help [Netflix] determine how to improve this model of storytelling in the context of a show or movie," the company said in its email response to him. The .csv and PDF files displayed Veale's journey through Bandersnatch, every choice displayed in a long line for him to see. After sending along a copy of his passport to prove his identity, Veale got the answers he wanted from Netflix via email and -- in a separate email -- a link to a website where he downloaded an encrypted version of his data. He had to use a Netflix-provided key to unlock the data, which came in the form of a .csv file and a PDF. Veale is concerned by what he learned. Netflix didn't tell Veale how long it keeps the data and what the long term deletion plans are. "They claim they're doing the processing as it's 'necessary' for performing the contract between me and Netflix," Veale told Motherboard. "Is storing that data against my account really 'necessary'? They clearly haven't delinked it or anonymized it, as I've got access to it long after I watched the show. If you asked me, they should really be using consent (which you should be able to refuse) or legitimate interests (meaning you can object to it) instead."

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Google Will Spend $13 Billion On US Real Estate In 2019

In a blog post today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is building new data centers and offices and expanding several key locations across the U.S., spending $13 billion this year. CNBC reports: Pichai outlined the plans, which include opening new data centers in Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Nebraska, the first time the company will have infrastructure locations in those states. The company is also doubling its workforce in Virginia, providing greater access to Washington, D.C., with a new office and more data center space, and expanding its New York campus at Hudson Square. Google is showing its willingness to further open its wallet, after a year in which capital spending more than doubled to $25.46 billion. The company didn't say home much each location will cost or provide information on tax incentives from local communities. Pichai said the plans will likely create tens of thousands of construction jobs across Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Virginia, as well as Oklahoma and South Carolina, where the company is expanding existing data centers. Google didn't say how many new jobs the data centers and business offices would create. Pichai also said that the company is adding new office buildings in Texas and Massachusetts, building out more space in Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington state and Georgia, and redeveloping California locations near Los Angeles and in the Bay Area, including the Westside Pavillion and Spruce Goose Hangar.

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Game of Thrones Hacker Worked With US Defector To Hack Air Force Employees of Iran

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed today espionage-related charges against a former U.S. Air Force service member who defected to Iran and helped the country's hackers target her former Air Force colleagues. Besides charges and an arrest warrant issued in the name of the former USAF service member, the DOJ also indicted four Iranian hackers who supposedly carried out the cyber-attacks acting on information provided by Witt. The most notable of the four Iranian hackers is Behzad Mesri, who U.S. authorities also charged in November 2017 with hacking HBO, stealing scripts for unaired episodes of season 6 of the hit series Game Of Thrones TV show, and later attempting to extort HBO execs for $6 million. But at the heart of today's indictment stands Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, a former US Air Force counter-intelligence special agent specialized in Middle East operations, who served for the Air Force between 1997 and 2008, and later worked as a DOD contractor until 2010 --including for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same defense company where Edward Snowden worked. [...] The DOJ claims Witt has been working ever since with IRGC hacking units to craft and fine-tune cyber-operations against her former Air Force colleagues, some of whom she knew personally. [...] All the five suspects named in the indictment are still at large, believed to be located in Iran. The DOJ says Witt now goes by the names of Fatemah Zahra or Narges Witt.

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How India’s Single Time Zone Is Hurting Its People

"The BBC reports on the detrimental effects of all of India being in one time zone since British Colonial rule," writes Slashdot reader dryriver. From the report: India stretches 3,000km (1,864 miles) from east to west, spanning roughly 30 degrees longitude. This corresponds with a two-hour difference in mean solar times -- the passage of time based on the position of the sun in the sky. The U.S. equivalent would be New York and Utah sharing one time zone. Except that in this case, it also affects more than a billion people -- hundreds of millions of whom live in poverty. The school day starts at more or less the same time everywhere in India but children go to bed later and have reduced sleep in areas where the sun sets later. An hour's delay in sunset time reduces children's sleep by 30 minutes. Using data from the India Time Survey and the national Demographic and Health Survey, [Cornell University Economist] Maulik Jagnani found that school-going children exposed to later sunsets get fewer years of education, and are less likely to complete primary and middle school. He found evidence that suggested that sunset-induced sleep deprivation is more pronounced among the poor, especially in periods when households face severe financial constraints. "This might be because sleep environments among poor households are associated with noise, heat, mosquitoes, overcrowding, and overall uncomfortable physical conditions. The poor may lack the financial resources to invest in sleep-inducing goods like window shades, separate rooms, indoor beds and adjust their sleep schedules," he told me.

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Shlayer Malware Disables macOS Gatekeeper To Run Unsigned Payloads

A new variant of the multi-stage Shlayer malware known to target macOS users has been observed in the wild, now being capable to escalate privileges using a two-year-old technique and to disable the Gatekeeper protection mechanism to run unsigned second stage payloads. Bleeping Computer reports: This new Shlayer variant unearthed by Carbon Black's Threat Analysis Unit (TAU) targets all macOS releases up to the latest 10.14.3 Mojave, and will arrive on the targets' machines as a DMG, PKG, ISO, or ZIP files, some of them also signed with a valid Apple developer ID to make them look legitimate. Shlayer samples found by TAU also use malicious shell scripts to download additional payloads just like older installments did, and, in the case of samples distributed as DMG images, will surreptitiously launch a .command script in the background after the user launches the fake Flash installer. The malicious script included in the DMG is encoded using base64 and will decrypt a second AES encrypted script which will be executed automatically after being decrypted. One it successfully downloads the second stage malware payload, Shlayer will "to escalate privileges with sudo using a technique invoking /usr/libexec/security_authtrampoline," presented by Patrick Wardle in his Death by 1000 Installers talk at DEFCON 2017. The next step is to download extra payloads which all contain adware according to TAU and it makes sure they'll be able to run on the compromised Mac by disabling the Gatekeeper protection mechanism. After this is accomplished, all extra payloads downloaded and launched by Shlayer will be seen as whitelisted software because the OS will no longer check if they are signed with an Apple developer ID. Also, just in case the malware is not able to disable Gatekeeper on the infected Mac, some of the second stage payloads are also signed with valid developer IDs.

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The Stolen Equifax Data Has Never Been Found, Experts Suspect a Spy Scheme

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: On September 7, 2017, the world heard an alarming announcement from credit ratings giant Equifax: In a brazen cyber-attack, somebody had stolen sensitive personal information from more than 140 million people, nearly half the population of the U.S. It was the consumer data security scandal of the decade. The information included social security numbers, driver's license numbers, information from credit disputes and other personal details. CEO Richard Smith stepped down under fire. Lawmakers changed credit freeze laws and instilled new regulatory oversight of credit ratings agencies. Then, something unusual happened. The data disappeared. Completely. CNBC talked to eight experts, including data "hunters" who scour the dark web for stolen information, senior cybersecurity managers, top executives at financial institutions, senior intelligence officials who played a part in the investigation and consultants who helped support it. All of them agreed that a breach happened, and personal information from 143 million people was stolen. But none of them knows where the data is now. It's never appeared on any hundreds of underground websites selling stolen information. Security experts haven't seen the data used for in any of the ways they'd expect in a theft like this -- not for impersonating victims, not for accessing other websites, nothing. Most experts familiar with the case now believe that the thieves were working for a foreign government, and are using the information not for financial gain, but to try and identify and recruit spies.

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California Governor Proposes Digital Dividend Aimed At Big Tech

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a "digital dividend" that would let consumers share in the billions of dollars made by technology companies in the most populous U.S. state. In his "State of the State" speech on Tuesday, Newsom said California is proud to be home to tech firms. But he said companies that make billions of dollars "collecting, curating and monetizing our personal data have a duty to protect it. Consumers have a right to know and control how their data is being used." He went further by suggesting the companies share some of those profits, joining other politicians calling for higher levies on the wealthy in U.S. society. "California's consumers should also be able to share in the wealth that is created from their data," Newsom said. "And so I've asked my team to develop a proposal for a new data dividend for Californians, because we recognize that data has value and it belongs to you." Newsom didn't describe what form the dividend might take, although he said "we can do something bold in this space." He also praised a tough California data-privacy law that will kick in next year.

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NASA Discovers Another Massive Crater Beneath the Ice In Greenland

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, NASA glaciologists found a crater thought to be more than 22 miles wide. "It is only 114 miles from the Hiawatha impact crater that was discovered in 2018," MIT Technology Review reports. "The identification of that first crater led NASA to dedicate additional resources for investigating the land under Greenland's ice." From the report: NASA glaciologists used topographical maps, satellite images, and radar scans to analyze the area. What they found was a flat, bowl-shaped depression in the bedrock. This was surrounded by an elevated edge and characteristic central peaks, which form on the crater floor after an impact. The crater has eroded significantly over time, causing the team to estimate it was created somewhere between a hundred thousand years and a hundred million years ago. That suggests it probably wasn't formed at the same time as the Hiawatha crater, which is younger. This would be the third pair of craters that sit close to one another that we've found on Earth. "We've surveyed the Earth in many different ways, from land, air, and space. It's exciting that discoveries like these are still possible," says Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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Elon Musk Announces That Raptor Engine Test Has Set New World Record

Iwastheone shares a report from Space.com: A test fire of SpaceX's newest engine reached the power level necessary for the company's next round of rocket designs, CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter. "Raptor just achieved power level needed for Starship & Super Heavy," he tweeted on Feb. 7, four days after he shared a photograph of the first test of a flight-ready engine. [Musk added: "Raptor reached 268.9 bar today, exceeding prior record by the awesome Russian RD-180. Great work by @SpaceX engine/test team!" The Raptor engine is designed to power the spaceship currently known as Starship as part of the rocket assembly currently known as Super Heavy (previously dubbed the BFR). The first Raptor test fire took place in September 2016, when the company was targeting an uncrewed Mars launch in 2018. Three Raptor engines like this one are built in to the Starship Hopper, which has been under construction in Texas and which SpaceX will use to begin testing the rocket technology in real life. Eventually, SpaceX plans to assemble 31 Raptor engines into the Super Heavy rockets, with another seven Raptors on the Starship itself.

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Eating Processed Foods Tied To Shorter Life, Study Suggests

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The study, in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked diet and health over eight years in more than 44,000 French men and women. Their average age was 58 at the start. About 29 percent of their energy intake was ultraprocessed foods. Such foods include instant noodles and soups, breakfast cereals, energy bars and drinks, chicken nuggets and many other ready-made meals and packaged snacks containing numerous ingredients and manufactured using industrial processes. There were 602 deaths over the course of the study, mostly from cancer and cardiovascular disease. Even after adjusting for many health, socioeconomic and behavioral characteristics, including scores on a scale of compliance with a healthy diet, the study found that for every 10 percent increase in ultraprocessed food consumption, there was a 14 percent increase in the risk of death (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The authors suggest that high-temperature processing may form contaminants, that additives may be carcinogenic, and that the packaging of prepared foods can lead to contamination.

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Publishers Chafe At Apple’s Terms For ‘Netflix For News’ Subscription Service As It Demands a 50 Percent Revenue Cut

Zorro shares a report from The Wall Street Journal: Apple's plan to create a subscription service for news is running into resistance from major publishers over the tech giant's proposed financial terms (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), according to people familiar with the situation, complicating an initiative that is part of the company's efforts to offset slowing iPhone sales. In its pitch to some news organizations, the Cupertino, Calif., company has said it would keep about half of the subscription revenue from the service, the people said. The service, described by industry executives as a "Netflix for news," would allow users to read an unlimited amount of content from participating publishers for a monthly fee. It is expected to launch later this year as a paid tier of the Apple News app, the people said. The rest of the revenue would go into a pool that would be divided among publishers according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles, the people said. Representatives from Apple have told publishers that the subscription service could be priced at about $10 a month, similar to Apple's streaming music service, but the final price could change, some of the people said. Another concern for some publishers is that they likely wouldn't get access to subscriber data, including credit-card information and email addresses, the people said. Credit-card information and email addresses are crucial for news organizations that seek to build their own customer databases and market their products to readers. Digital subscriptions are powering growth at big publishers including the Times, whose basic monthly subscription costs $15, the Post, which charges $10, and the Journal, which charges $39. Some of those companies are skeptical about giving up too much control to Apple, or cannibalizing their existing subscriptions to sign up lower-revenue Apple users, according to people familiar with the matter.

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Activision Blizzard Cuts 8% of Jobs Amid ‘Record Results In 2018’

On an earnings call this afternoon, publisher Activision Blizzard said that it would be eliminating 8% of its staff. "In 2018, Activision Blizzard had roughly 9,600 employees, which would mean nearly 800 people are now out of work," reports Kotaku. "This afternoon, the mega-publisher began notifying those who are being laid off across its various organizations, which include Activision, Blizzard, and King." From the report: On the earnings call, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told investors that the company had "once again achieved record results in 2018" but that the company would be consolidating and restructuring because of missed expectations for 2018 and lowered expectations for 2019. The company said it would be cutting mainly non-game-development departments and bolstering its development staff for franchises like Call of Duty and Diablo. Development sources from across the industry told Kotaku this afternoon that the layoffs have affected Activision publishing, Blizzard, King, and some of Activision's studios, including High Moon. At Blizzard, the layoffs appear to only have affected non-game-development departments, such as publishing and esports, both of which were expected to be hit hard. "Over the last few years, many of our non-development teams expanded to support various needs," Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said in a note to staff. "Currently staffing levels on some teams are out of proportion with our current release slate. This means we need to scale down some areas of our organization. I'm sorry to share that we will be parting ways with some of our colleagues in the U.S. today. In our regional offices, we anticipate similar evaluations, subject to local requirements." Thankfully, the letter promised "a comprehensive severance package," continued health benefits, career coaching, and job placement assistance as well as profit-sharing bonuses for the previous year to those who are being laid off at Blizzard. "There's no way to make this transition easy for impacted employees, but we are doing what we can to support our colleagues," Brack wrote.

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KDE Plasma 5.15 Released

jrepin writes: Today, KDE launched Plasma 5.15, the first stable release of the popular desktop environment in 2019. For this release the Plasma team has focused on hunting down and removing all the paper cuts that slow you down. Plasma 5.15 brings a number of changes to the configuration interfaces, including more options for complex network configurations. Many icons have been added or redesigned to make them clearer. Integration with third-party technologies like GTK and Firefox has been improved substantially. Discover, Plasma's software and add-on installer, has received tons of improvements to help you stay up-to-date and find the tools you need to get your tasks done. For a more detailed list of features/changes, you can browse the full Plasma 5.15 changelog.

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California Will Not Complete $77 Billion High-Speed Rail Project

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday the state will not complete a $77.3 billion planned high-speed rail project, but will finish a smaller section of the line. "The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There's been too little oversight and not enough transparency," Newsom said in his first State of the State Address Tuesday to lawmakers. "Right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to (Los Angeles). I wish there were," he said. Newsom said the state will complete a 110-mile (177 km) high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. In March 2018, the state forecast the costs had jumped by $13 billion to $77 billion and warned that the costs could be as much as $98.1 billion. California planned to build a 520-mile system in the first phase that would allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour in the traffic-choked state from Los Angeles to San Francisco and begin full operations by 2033. Newsom said he would not give up entirely on the effort. "Abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it," he said. "And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump."

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Ask Slashdot: Is It Ethical To Purchase Electronics Products Made In China?

dryriver writes: A lot of people seem to think it's O.K. to buy electronics made in China. We get to buy products considerably cheaper than we otherwise would, and China by all accounts is growing, developing, and modernizing as a nation due to all the cool stuff they now make for the world. There is only one problem with that reasoning. 21st Century China has an atrocious human rights record, and almost all human rights watchdogs report that China is becoming more and more repressive each year. Freedom House put it this way in 2018: "It's worth noting that, in its attitude toward political dissent, the Chinese Communist Party has proven much harsher than the old Soviet regime of the Brezhnev era. Modern Chinese sentences are longer, the prospects for early release are far worse, and the Chinese authorities are generally unmoved by pleas for leniency from foreign diplomats." Basically, consumer dollars from around the world are not gradually creating a gentler, freer, more prosperous and more modern China at all. They are making the Chinese Communist Party richer, stronger, bolder and more aggressive and repressive in every respect. To the question: knowing what the human rights situation is in China, and that consumer dollars and euros flowing into the country from abroad is making things worse, not better, is it at all ethical to buy electronics or IT products manufactured in China?

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Facebook Glitch Lets You Search For Pictures of Your Female Friends, But Not Your Male Ones

Belgian security researcher Inti De Ceukelaire has found an unusual glitch in Facebook's search function. Facebook lets you search for photos of your female friends, but refuses to let you look up pictures of your male friends. The Next Web has managed to replicate the glitch across several Facebook accounts. "When you type 'photos of my female friends' into the search bar, Facebook will return a seemingly-random selection of photos from your female friends," reports TNW. From the report: Switching out "female" with "male" returns something completely different. Instead of pictures of friends from within your social network, you're instead shown a selection of pictures from across the social network. In our experience, these came from accounts and groups we did not follow. Facebook will also ask if you meant to type "female," assuming you mistyped your query. If you're feeling an overwhelming sense of deja vu, you're not alone. The predecessor to Facebook was a deeply unsavory site called Facemash that allowed Harvard University students to rate their female colleagues based on perceived physical attractiveness. It's a far cry from the now-hugely popular social network site, used by millennials and grandparents alike. Facebook has desperately tried to shed this deeply questionable part of its history for something more saccharine and innocuous. [...] The main difference though is that this is almost certainly an innocent mistake, rather than the product of dorm-room shenanigans.

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What It’s Like To Work Inside Apple’s ‘Black Site’

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a Bloomberg report: Apple's new campus in Cupertino, California, is a symbol of how the company views itself as an employer: simultaneously inspiring its workers with its magnificent scale while coddling them with its four-story cafe and 100,000-square-foot fitness center. But one group of Apple contractors finds another building, six miles away on Hammerwood Avenue in Sunnyvale, to be a more apt symbol. This building is as bland as the main Apple campus is striking. From the outside, there appears to be a reception area, but it's unstaffed, which makes sense given that people working in this satellite office -- mostly employees of Apple contractors working on Apple Maps -- use the back door. Workers say managers instructed them to walk several blocks away before calling for a ride home. Several people who worked here say it's widely referred to within Apple as a "black site," as in a covert ops facility. Inside the building, say former workers, they came to expect the vending machines to be understocked, and to have to wait in line to use the men's bathrooms. Architectural surprise and delight wasn't a priority here; after all, the contract workers at Hammerwood almost all leave after their assignments of 12 to 15 months are up. It's not uncommon for workers not to make it that long. According to 14 current and former contractors employed by Apex Systems, a firm that staffs the building as well as other Apple mapping offices, they operated under the constant threat of termination. "It was made pretty plain to us that we were at-will employees and they would fire us at any time," says one former Hammerwood contractor, who, like most of the workers interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because he signed a nondisclosure agreement with Apex. "There was a culture of fear among the contractors which I got infected by and probably spread." Apex manages the workers it hires -- not Apple. "Following an inquiry from Bloomberg News, the company says, it conducted a surprise audit of the Hammerwood facility and found a work environment consistent with other Apple locations," reports Bloomberg. "Like we do with other suppliers, we will work with Apex to review their management systems, including recruiting and termination protocols, to ensure the terms and conditions of employment are transparent and clearly communicated to workers in advance," an Apple spokesperson says in a statement.

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New iPhones To Stick With Lightning Over USB-C, Include Slow-Charging 5W USB-A Charger In Box

For those hoping the next iPhone would ditch the Lightning port in favor of the more versatile USB-C port, you'll surely be disappointed by the latest rumor. "Japanese site Macotakara says that not only will the 2019 iPhone use Lightning, Apple will also continue to bundle the same 5W charger and USB-A to Lightning cable in the box," reports 9to5Mac. "This is seen as a cost saving measure. It seems that customers wanting faster iPhone charge times will still have to buy accessories, like the 12W iPad charger." From the report: The site explains that Lightning port is not going anywhere and Apple is resistant to changing the included accessories to maintain production costs. Apple can benefit from huge economies of scale by selling the same accessories for many generation. As such, Apple apparently will keep bundling Lightning EarPods, Lightning to USB-A cable, and the 5W USB power adaptor, with the 2019 iPhone lineup. This is disappointing as Apple began shipping an 18W USB-C charger with its iPad Pro line last fall, and many expected that accessory to become an iPhone standard too. Even if the iPhone keeps the Lightning port, Lightning can support fast-charging over the USB Type-C protocol. It's not clear if the cost savings of this decision would be passed on to consumers with lower cost 2019 iPhone pricing.

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FDA Warns Supplement Makers To Stop Touting Cures For Diseases and Cancer

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Food and Drug Administration on Monday warned 12 sellers of dietary supplements to stop claiming their products can cure diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer to diabetes. At the same time, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the agency's commissioner, suggested that Congress strengthen the F.D.A.'s authority over an estimated $40 billion industry, which sells as many as 80,000 kinds of powders and pills with little federal scrutiny. These products range from benign substances like vitamin C or fish oil to more risky mineral, herbal and botanical concoctions that can be fatal. "People haven't wanted to touch this framework or address this space in, really, decades, and I think it's time we do it," Dr. Gottlieb said in an interview. He is particularly concerned about supplements that purport to cure diseases for which consumers should seek medical attention. "We know there are effective therapies that can help patients with Alzheimer's," he said. "But unproven supplements that claim to treat the disease but offer no benefits can prevent patients from seeking otherwise effective care." The companies included TEK Naturals, Pure Nootropics and Sovereign Laboratories. In a letter to TEK Naturals, the F.D.A. and the Federal Trade Commission chastised the company for marketing Mind Ignite as a product "clinically shown to help diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer's and even dementia."

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Android Phones Can Be Hacked Remotely By Viewing Malicious PNG Image

An innocent-looking image -- sent either via the internet or text -- could open your Android phone up to hacking. "While this certainly doesn't apply to all images, Google discovered that a maliciously crafted PNG image could be used to hijack a wide variety of Androids -- those running Android Nougat (7.0), Oreo (8.0), and even the latest Android OS Pie (9.0)," reports CSO Online. From the report: The latest bulletin lists 42 vulnerabilities in total -- 11 of which are rated as critical. The most severe critical flaw is in Framework; it "could enable a remote attacker using a specially crafted PNG file to execute arbitrary code within the context of a privileged process." Although Google had no report of the security flaws being actively exploited, it remains to be seen if and how long it will take before attackers use the flaw for real-world attacks. Android owners were urged to patch as soon as security updates becomes available. But let's get real: Even if your Android still receives security updates, there's no telling how long it will be (weeks or months) before manufacturers and carriers get it together to push out the patches.

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Texas Lawmaker Wants To Ban Mobile Throttling In Disaster Areas

Bobby Guerra, a Democratic member of the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives, filed a bill last week that would prohibit wireless carriers from throttling mobile internet service in disaster areas. "A mobile Internet service provider may not impair or degrade lawful mobile Internet service access in an area subject to a declared state of disaster," the bill says. If passed, it would take effect on September 1, 2019. Ars Technica reports: The bill, reported by NPR affiliate KUT, appears to be a response to Verizon's throttling of an "unlimited" data plan used by Santa Clara County firefighters during a wildfire response in California last year. But Guerra's bill would prohibit throttling in disaster areas of any customer, not just public safety officials. Wireless carriers often sell plans with a set amount of high-speed data and then throttle speeds after a customer has passed the high-speed data limit. Even with so-called "unlimited" plans, carriers reserve the right to throttle speeds once customers use a certain amount of data each month. Despite the Verizon/Santa Clara incident, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has taken no action to prevent further incidents of throttling during emergencies. Pai's repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules allows throttling as long as the carrier discloses it, and the commission is trying to prevent states from imposing their own net neutrality rules.

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Google Docs Gets an API For Task Automation

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Google today announced the general availability of a new API for Google Docs that will allow developers to automate many of the tasks that users typically do manually in the company's online office suite. The API has been in developer preview since last April's Google Cloud Next 2018 and is now available to all developers. As Google notes, the REST API was designed to help developers build workflow automation services for their users, build content management services and create documents in bulk. Using the API, developers can also set up processes that manipulate documents after the fact to update them, and the API also features the ability to insert, delete, move, merge and format text, insert inline images and work with lists, among other things. The canonical use case here is invoicing, where you need to regularly create similar documents with ever-changing order numbers and line items based on information from third-party systems (or maybe even just a Google Sheet). Google also notes that the API's import/export abilities allow you to use Docs for internal content management systems.

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Amazon Is Buying Mesh Router Company Eero

Amazon has announced that it's acquiring Eero, the maker of mesh home routers. "Amazon says buying Eero will allow the company to 'help customers better connect smart home devices,'" reports The Verge. "It will certainly make Alexa-compatible gadgets easier to set up if Amazon also controls the router technology. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed." From the report: Eero kicked off a wave of "smart" mesh router setups designed to overcome the coverage issues and dead zones of traditional routers. Instead of a single router device, multiple access points are used to blanket an entire home or apartment with a strong Wi-Fi signal. The system works as advertised, and it's all controlled with an intuitive smartphone app. Google, Samsung, Linksys, Netgear, and other electronics companies have since followed Eero's lead and released their own mesh bundles. It sounds as though the Eero brand will live on after the acquisition -- at least in the near term. "By joining the Amazon family, we're excited to learn from and work closely with a team that is defining the future of the home, accelerate our mission, and bring Eero systems to more customers around the globe," said Nick Weaver, Eero's co-founder and CEO. Amazon isn't saying much about its future plans for Eero; might we see an Alexa-enabled router? An Echo that doubles as a Wi-Fi access point sounds nice. The report notes that Amazon will now have "more valuable data on consumers and advance Amazon's growing dominance of the smart home." Last year, Amazon acquired smart doorbell and camera maker Ring and bought Blink in 2017.

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Microsoft Teases HoloLens 2

"Microsoft is expected to announce the next generation HoloLens headset at an already announced event on February 24, and the company's doing a bit more to stoke the flames," reports TechCrunch. One of the key people behind the original HoloLens, Alex Kipman, tweeted a video showing "vague forms of chips and cables [that] take shape out of melted ice, rocks and air," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The original headset was ahead of the mixed reality wave, but now that AR is starting to catch on all over the industry, the timing could be right for a big second-generation launch. Reports have suggested a Qualcomm 850 chip and new Project Kinect Sensors. The headset is also said to be cheaper and smaller than its developer-focused predecessor, which could put Microsoft in prime position to push augmented reality forward.

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Amy Klobuchar Calls For Net Neutrality ‘Guarantee’ In 2020 Presidential Announcement

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she wanted to "guarantee" net neutrality for all Americans during her 2020 presidential campaign kickoff speech. "[T]he senator bringing it up in her announcement marked perhaps the most high-profile stage the issue has had in terms of recent presidential politics," reports The Daily Dot. From the report: The Minnesota senator brought up the issue among other technology platform goals, including privacy and cybersecurity. "Way too many politicians have their heads stuck in the sand when it comes to the digital revolution. 'Hey guys, it's not just coming. It's here.' If you don't know the difference between a hack and Slack, it's time to pull off the digital highway," she said. "What would I do as president? We need to put some digital rules of the road into law when it comes to people's privacy." She added: "For too long the big tech companies have been telling you, don't worry, we've got your back," she said. "While your identities, in fact, are being stolen and your data is being mined. Our laws need to be as sophisticated as the people who are breaking them. We must revamp our nation's cybersecurity and guarantee net neutrality for all. And we need to end the digital divide by pledging to connect every household to the internet by 2022, and that means you, rural America." Other Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination have shown support for net neutrality in the past. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) tweeted late last month about reports suggesting that telecom investments have not risen since the FCC's controversial repeal of net neutrality, calling the decision "another handout to big corporations & telecom giants." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also told a crowd in Iowa last month that she believed "in net neutrality the same way I believe everybody should have access to electricity," according to the Washington Post.

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Wayward Satellites Test Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: In August 2014 a rocket launched the fifth and sixth satellites of the Galileo global navigation system, the European Union's $11-billion answer to the U.S.'s GPS. But celebration turned to disappointment when it became clear that the satellites had been dropped off at the wrong cosmic "bus stops." Instead of being placed in circular orbits at stable altitudes, they were stranded in elliptical orbits useless for navigation. The mishap, however, offered a rare opportunity for a fundamental physics experiment. Two independent research teams -- one led by Pacome Delva of the Paris Observatory in France, the other by Sven Herrmann of the University of Bremen in Germany -- monitored the wayward satellites to look for holes in Einstein's general theory of relativity. Einstein's theory predicts time will pass more slowly close to a massive object, which means that a clock on Earth's surface should tick at a more sluggish rate relative to one on a satellite in orbit. This time dilation is known as gravitational redshift. Any subtle deviation from this pattern might give physicists clues for a new theory that unifies gravity and quantum physics. Even after the Galileo satellites were nudged closer to circular orbits, they were still climbing and falling about 8,500 kilometers twice a day. Over the course of three years Delva's and Herrmann's teams watched how the resulting shifts in gravity altered the frequency of the satellites' super-accurate atomic clocks. In a previous gravitational redshift test, conducted in 1976, when the Gravity Probe-A suborbital rocket was launched into space with an atomic clock onboard, researchers observed that general relativity predicted the clock's frequency shift with an uncertainty of 1.4 x 10-4. The new studies, published last December in Physical Review Letters, again verified Einstein's prediction -- and increased that precision by a factor of 5.6. So, for now, the century-old theory still reigns.

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New Images of the Distant Ultima Thule Object Have Surprised Scientists

Iwastheone shares a report from Ars Technica: Back in early January, when scientists pulled down their first batch of data from the New Horizons spacecraft, they celebrated an odd snowman-shaped object in the outer Solar System. From this first look, it appeared as though Ultima Thule, formally named 2014 MU69, consisted of two spheres in contact with one another -- a contact binary. Now that scientists have downloaded more data from the distant spacecraft, however, our view of Ultima Thule has changed. A sequence of images captured as New Horizons moved away from the object in the Kuiper Belt at a velocity of 50,000 km/hour, taken about 10 minutes after closest approach, show a much flatter appearance. After analyzing these new images, scientists say the larger lobe more closely resembles a large pancake, and the smaller lobe looks a bit like a walnut. The new photos reveal a dramatically different object because they were taken from a different angle than the images that were downloaded first. As planetary scientist Alex Parker noted on Twitter, "The larger lobe looks to have a shape similar to some of the pancake moons of Saturn, like Atlas." However, Saturn's moons were believed to have formed near the gas giant, in the midst of its rings, rather than in deep space.

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New Long-Spined Dinosaur With ‘Mohawk of Large Spikes’ Discovered In Patagonia

"Researchers in Argentina have discovered a new Sauropod with unusually long spikes protruding forward from its body," writes Slashdot reader dryriver. The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. ScienceAlert reports: Living 140 million years ago in the early Lower Cretaceous, the newly discovered herbivore Bajadasaurus pronuspinax had a thing for growing spikes. It was part of the Sauropod family, but looked a little like a small Brontosaurus crossed with a porcupine. "The sauropods are the big dinosaurs with long necks and long tails, but specifically this is a small family within the sauropods which were about 9 or 10 meters in length," paleontologist Pablo Gallina from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina told Agencia EFE. Bajadasaurus was a species of this small family, called Dicraeosauridae, all of which have similar spines on their necks. When the researchers discovered the fossils of this previously unknown dinosaur in Patagonia, Argentina, the remains included not only most of the skull, but a whole spine bone. This gave the researchers the chance to investigate what these spines might have been used for. "We believe that the long and sharp spines -- very long and thin -- on the neck and back of Bajadasaurus and Amargasaurus cazaui (another dicraeosaurid) must have been to deter possible predators," explained Gallina to AFP.'

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Insects Could Vanish Within a Century At Current Rate of Decline, Says Global Review

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems," according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are "essential" for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients. Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: "The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanization and climate change are also significant factors. "One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects," the study says, noting a recent study in Puerto Rico where there was a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit.

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Users Complain of Account Hacks, But OkCupid Denies a Data Breach

Zack Whittaker reports via TechCrunch: A reader contacted TechCrunch after his [OkCupid] account was hacked. The reader, who did not want to be named, said the hacker broke in and changed his password, locking him out of his account. Worse, they changed his email address on file, preventing him from resetting his password. OkCupid didn't send an email to confirm the address change -- it just blindly accepted the change. "Unfortunately, we're not able to provide any details about accounts not connected to your email address," said OkCupid's customer service in response to his complaint, which he forwarded to TechCrunch. Then, the hacker started harassing him strange text messages from his phone number that was lifted from one of his private messages. It wasn't an isolated case. We found several cases of people saying their OkCupid account had been hacked. But several users couldn't explain how their passwords -- unique to OkCupid and not used on any other app or site -- were inexplicably obtained. "There has been no security breach at OkCupid," said Natalie Sawyer, a spokesperson for OkCupid. "All websites constantly experience account takeover attempts. There has been no increase in account takeovers on OkCupid." Even on OkCupid's own support pages, the company says that account takeovers often happen because someone has an account owner's login information. "If you use the same password on several different sites or services, then your accounts on all of them have the potential to be taken over if one site has a security breach," says the support page. In fact, when we checked, OkCupid was just one of many major dating sites -- like Match, PlentyOfFish, Zoosk, Badoo, JDate, and eHarmony -- that didn't use two-factor authentication at all.

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New Study Finds More Post-Surgery Deaths Globally Than From HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria Combined

schwit1 shares a report from UPI: About 4.2 million people worldwide die every year within 30 days of surgery -- more than from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, a new study reports. The findings show that 7.7 percent of all deaths worldwide occur within a month of surgery, a rate higher than that from any other cause except ischemic heart disease and stroke. "Although not all postoperative deaths are avoidable, many can be prevented by increasing investment in research, staff training, equipment and better hospital facilities," lead author of the study, Dr. Dmitri Nepogodiev, said in a university news release. Along with finding that 4.2 million people a year die within a month of having surgery, his team discovered that half of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. "Although not all postoperative deaths are avoidable, many can be prevented by increasing investment in research, staff training, equipment and better hospital facilities," Nepogodiev said in a university news release. "To avoid millions more people dying after surgery, planned expansion of access to surgery must be complemented by investment in to improving the quality of surgery around the world," he noted.

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Tesla ‘Dog Mode’ Will Stop Pets From Overheating In Cars, Elon Musk Says

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said his fleet of electric vehicles will be getting a "dog mode" to protect pets from overheating. The feature, which will be rolled out next week, will be able to detect when a pet is locked inside the car -- and keep the temperature at a safe level. The New Zealand Herald reports: There will also likely be a display or some form of communication to inform passers-by that the dog is safe. The feature was added after Musk was inundated with tweets from customers. In October, one Tesla driver asked him: "Can you put a dog mode on the Tesla Model 3. "Where the music plays and the air conditioning is on, with a display on screen saying 'I'm fine my owner will be right back?'" Musk replied: "Yes." 'Dog mode' will likely be an extension of Tesla's Cabin Overheat Protection System. This already prevents temperatures inside the car from reaching unsafe levels when kids or pets are inside. But the screen in Tesla models is likely to now flash a message to pedestrians informing them that the pet inside is safe. The "dog mode" update will be launched at the same time as a "sentry mode" -- designed to ward off would-be thieves. Sentry Mode will use the dashcam to record footage in the event of an attempted break-in. And it is rumored the car will play loud classical music through the stereo system to draw attention to the intruder and encourage passersby to call the police.

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Scientists Have Reduced the Forecast of Sea Level Rise Seven Times Due To Melting of the Antarctic

The destruction of the Antarctic ice sheet may not lead to such a catastrophic rise in the level of the oceans, as previously thought. In a new study, the authors calculated that instead of growing by a meter or more by 2100, a growth of 14-15 cm is likely, writes N + 1. At the same time, the melting of the ice of Greenland and Antarctica is not fully taken into account in modern climate models, as it will lead to even more destabilization of the regional climate. Both studies on this are published in the journal Nature. An anonymous reader shares the report from Maritime Herald: In the first study, Tamzin Edwards from King's College London and her colleagues question this prediction. According to Edwards, who is quoted by the college press service, scientists re-analyzed data on ice loss and ocean level 3 million years ago, 125 thousand years ago and in the last 25 years and estimated the likelihood of rapid destruction of unstable sea areas of Antarctic glaciers, which the authors 2016 was associated with a meter increase in the level of the oceans. The hypothesis of such destruction received the abbreviated name MICI (marine ice cliff instability). They found that MICI does not necessarily explain the dynamics of sea level in the past, and without this the probability that the level will grow by more than 39 centimeters by 2100 is only about 5 percent. Edwards notes that in their model, even if the Antarctic glaciers really will collapse rapidly, the maximum increase in sea level will not exceed half a meter, and the most likely growth will be 14-15 cm. At the same time, scientists cannot completely eliminate the MICI phenomenon: they only talk about that more research is needed in this area. In the second article, Edwards and Nick Golledge of Queen Victoria University in Wellington and their co-authors write that current climate models do not fully take into account the consequences of the destruction of the ice of Greenland and the Antarctic, which will slow down the Atlantic Ocean and further melt the Antarctic ice due to "locking" of warm water in the Southern Ocean (climatologists call such self-enhancing processes positive feedback processes). In addition, according to the authors of the article, the melting of ice in the warming scenario of 3-4 degrees compared with the middle of the XIX century will lead to a less predictable climate and an increase in the scale of extreme weather events.

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Google Play Caught Hosting An App That Steals Users’ Cryptocurrency

The Google Play Store has been caught hosting an app designed to steal cryptocurrency from unwitting end users, according to researchers with Eset security company. "The malware, which masqueraded as a legitimate cryptocurrency app, worked by replacing wallet addresses copied into the Android clipboard with one belonging to attackers," reports Ars Technica. "As a result, people who intended to use the app to transfer digital coins into a wallet of their choosing would instead deposit the funds into a wallet belonging to the attackers." From the report: So-called clipper malware has targeted Windows users since at least 2017. The clipper malware available in Google Play impersonated a service called MetaMask, which is designed to allow browsers to run apps that work with the digital coin Ethereum. The primary purpose of Android/Clipper.C, as Eset has dubbed the malware, was to steal credentials needed to gain control of Ethereum funds. It also replaced both bitcoin and Ethereum wallet addresses copied to the clipboard with ones belonging to the attackers. Eset spotted the app shortly after its introduction to Google Play on February 1. Google has since removed it. Stefanko said it's the first time clipper malware has been hosted in the Android app bazaar. Eset malware researcher Lukas Stefanko wrote: "This attack targets users who want to use the mobile version of the MetaMask service, which is designed to run Ethereum decentralized apps in a browser, without having to run a full Ethereum node. However, the service currently does not offer a mobile app -- only add-ons for desktop browsers such as Chrome and Firefox. Several malicious apps have been caught previously on Google Play impersonating MetaMask. However, they merely phished for sensitive information with the goal of accessing the victims' cryptocurrency funds."

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Tesla Model 3 Becomes Best Selling Electric Car In World

Jose Pontes of EV Volumes and CleanTechnica has crunched some numbers and found that the Tesla Model 3 is now the best selling plug-in vehicle in the world. "In fact, the Model 3 was approximately 55,000 sales above the #2 BAIC EC-Series, an extremely popular Chinese model," CleanTechnica reports. "The Model 3 gobbled 7% of the plug-in vehicle market, while the #2 EC-Series and #3 Nissan LEAF each had 4%." From the report: After those top three, as the chart shows, the Tesla Model S and Model X were #4 and #5, respectively. They were followed by three Chinese models and then the Toyota Prius Prime and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The Model 3 (and others) helped push the world plug-in vehicle share up to 2.1% in 2018. (Double that 4 times and we're at about 30% market share.) [...] Remember, 93% of plug-in vehicle sales in 2018 were not Model 3 sales. Nearly 2 million non -- Model 3 electric cars, SUVs, and crossovers made it into consumers' parking spots. Still, there's clearly a new king of the hill, and its young Tesla's 4th model.

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Amazon To NYC After Reconsidering HQ2 Plans: It’d Be a Shame If Something Happened To Your Kids’ CS Education

theodp writes: Commenting on reports that Amazon is reconsidering its plan to bring 25,000 jobs to a new campus in New York City following a wave of political and community opposition, Amazon issued the following statement: "We're focused on engaging with our new neighbors -- small business owners, educators, and community leaders. Whether it's building a pipeline of local jobs through workforce training or funding computer science classes for thousands of New York City students, we are working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbor we will be." Yep, it'd be a shame if something happened. The Washington Post earlier reported that New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a strong opponent of the Amazon HQ2 deal, described the possibility that Amazon would pull out of the deal -- which totals up to $3 billion in state and city incentives -- as akin to blackmail. "Amazon has extorted New York from the start, and this seems to be their next effort to do just that," he said. "If their view is, 'We won't come unless we get three billion of your dollars,' then they shouldn't come." Over at Vice, Ankita Rao examines what Amazon infiltrating America's school system might look like.

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Huawei Would Accept EU Supervision To Lay 5G Network

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechRadar: Huawei has said it is willing for its equipment and activities to be supervised by the European Union (EU) as it continues to fend off the threat of restrictions on the use of its kit in 5G networks. Last year it emerged the US, which has long frozen out the company from its own telecommunications infrastructure, had been encouraging other western nations to take similar action. The main basis for Washington's fears is a perception that Huawei is linked to the Chinese government and that the use of the company's equipment risks the possibility of backdoors that could be used for espionage. These fears are heightened by 5G because of the sensitive information these networks will carry. The US is concerned that if its allies continue to use Huawei kit, then America's security will be threatened. Now, Abraham Liu, Huawei's chief representative to EU institutions, has used a speech to mark the Chinese New Year to repeat the company's denials and to stress its willingness to cooperate with the EU and European governments. "Cybersecurity should remain as a technical issue instead of an ideological issue. Because technical issues can always be resolved through the right solutions while ideological issue cannot," he is quoted as saying. "We are always willing to accept the supervision and suggestions of all European governments, customers and partners." A number of European nations, including the UK and Germany, have expressed concern about the use of Huawei equipment in their telecoms infrastructure, however earlier this week, France rejected proposals that would increase checks Last week, Huawei pledged to spend about $2 billion over five years to resolve the security issues in the United Kingdom. However, they also claimed that the firm "has never and will never use UK-based hardware, software or information gathered in the UK or anywhere else globally, to assist other countries in gathering intelligence." They added: "We would not do this in any country."

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Ask Slashdot: Could Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower Have Worked?

dryriver writes: For those who are unfamiliar with the story, from 1901-1902, inventor Nikola Tesla had a 187-foot-tall experimental wireless electricity transmission tower called the "Wardenclyffe Tower" built in Shoreham, New York. Tesla believed that it was possible to generate electrical power on a large scale in one part of the world and transmit that electrical power to electrical receivers in far away parts of the world wirelessly, using parts of Earth's atmosphere as the conducting medium. Tesla had huge problems getting the project financed -- powerful banker J.P. Morgan didn't play along and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson didn't help a pleading Tesla either. An excerpt from a Wardenclyffe documentary shows the tower finally being dynamited and sold for scrap in 1917. The Wardenclyffe Tower never reached operational status; wireless electrical transmission between continents never happened; Tesla became an emotionally broken man who died regretting that he did not manage to finish his life's work; and to this day nobody knows exactly how the Wardenclyffe Tower was supposed to function technically. To the question: Do you believe that Tesla's dream of electrical devices anywhere in the world essentially being able to draw electrical power from the sky with a relatively simple antenna could have worked, had he gotten the necessary funding to complete his experiments?

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How Hackers and Scammers Break Into iCloud-Locked iPhones

Motherboard's Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler report of the underground industry where thieves, coders, and hackers work to remove a user's iCloud account from a phone so that they can then be resold. They reportedly are able to do this by phishing the phone's original owners, or scam employees at Apple Stores, which have the ability to override iCloud locks. The other method (that is very labor intensive and rare) involves removing the iPhone's CPU from the Logic Board and reprogramming it to create what is essentially a "new" device. It is generally done in Chinese refurbishing labs and involves stealing a "clean" phone identification number called an IMEI. Here's an excerpt from their report: Making matters more complicated is the fact that not all iCloud-locked phones are stolen devices -- some of them are phones that are returned to telecom companies as part of phone upgrade and insurance programs. The large number of legitimately obtained, iCloud-locked iPhones helps supply the independent phone repair industry with replacement parts that cannot be obtained directly from Apple. But naturally, repair companies know that a phone is worth more unlocked than it is locked, and so some of them have waded into the hacking underground to become customers of illegal iCloud unlocking companies. In practice, "iCloud unlock" as it's often called, is a scheme that involves a complex supply chain of different scams and cybercriminals. These include using fake receipts and invoices to trick Apple into believing they're the legitimate owner of the phone, using databases that look up information on iPhones, and social engineering at Apple Stores. There are even custom phishing kits for sale online designed to steal iCloud passwords from a phone's original owner. [...] There are many listings on eBay, Craigslist, and wholesale sites for phones billed as "iCloud-locked," or "for parts" or something similar. While some of these phones are almost certainly stolen, many of them are not. According to three professionals in the independent repair and iPhone refurbishing businesses, used iPhones -- including some iCloud-locked devices -- are sold in bulk at private "carrier auctions" where companies like T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and cell phone insurance providers sell their excess inventory (often through third-party processing companies.)

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DoorDash and Amazon Won’t Change Tipping Policy After Instacart Controversy

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Forbes: The tipping controversy that prompted Instacart to reverse a compensation plan to its contract workers isn't likely to go away: Rivals DoorDash and Amazon Flex are continuing to adjust driver pay based on how much they get tipped, saying doing so ensures a minimum payout. The practice, which has its roots in the way brick-and-mortar restaurants pay waitstaff, has been adapted to suit the needs of app-based delivery companies. The difference is that gig-economy workers are independent contractors, and so aren't protected by the minimum wage laws. Instacart, a $7.6 billion grocery delivery company, made a change in October 2018 that workers would receive at least $10 per delivery order. Customers and shoppers didn't realize that the tips were counting towards that minimum instead of being a bonus on top. So if someone tipped more, Instacart effectively had to pay less. That's how one Instacart delivery driver ended up with Instacart only paying 80 cents and the rest of the minimum being met with tips. The company reversed its decision on Wednesday after public outcry, admitting that counting tips in its payout totals was "misguided" and has moved to a new pay scale that doesn't factor in tips at all. But DoorDash and Amazon Flex, the contract workforce that delivers packages for Prime Now, continued to stand their ground. DoorDash claims it has been transparent about the tips being part of its delivery driver pay since it made the change in 2017, including on a blog post on whether customers should tip, and maintains that delivery-driver retention and overall satisfaction both "increased significantly" since the change. Both DoorDash and Instacart insist that they never turned the payment dial down if someone received a large tip. Instead, both companies used an algorithm to calculate a base pay rate that would include things like time and effort it took to deliver. If that base pay plus tip fell short of the price they guaranteed, then both companies would pay out more to make sure its delivery drivers reached the payout they had been promised. But in cases where the tip plus its initial calculation reached the promised payout, then the companies would only contribute the amount that the algorithm had calculated the delivery person deserved. One simple solution if you want to make sure your tip gets into the hand of your digital delivery worker: tip in cash.

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Amazon Quietly Confirms It Is Competing With UPS and FedEx

schwit1 shares a report from Business Insider: Amazon declared in its 2018 annual filing that it competes against transportation and logistics companies, as CNBC first reported. It's a clear warning shot against UPS and FedEx, two companies that used to claim Amazon is simply their customer. Meanwhile, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky told analysts last week that the retail giant will "continue to expand (its) Amazon logistics and (its) delivery capability" in 2019. Meanwhile, UPS CEO David Abney said the company "monitor(s) them (Amazon) as is if they were a competitor." And FedEx claimed, seemingly out of nowhere, last week that Amazon is not their largest competitor, claiming just 1.3% of the company's 2018 revenue.

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Tesla Hacker Launches Open-Source Project ‘FreedomEV’ To Run On Rooted Teslas, Bring New Wi-Fi Hotspot and Anti-Tracking Features

Slashdot reader internet-redstar writes: The Tesla Hacker, Jasper Nuyens -- who uncovered Tesla's "unconfirmed lane change" last year -- now launched at FOSDEM an open-source project called "FreedomEV" to run on top of rooted Teslas. It adds new features to the vehicles, such as a "Hotspot Mode" for in-car Wi-Fi and a "Cloak Mode" to prevent all location tracking and more. It hopes to become available for other cars too. Full presentation video can be found here. The Github project and the website. He is looking for contributors and support from Tesla.

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New Chemical Process Can Convert Nearly a Quarter of All Plastic Waste Into Fuel

"Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new chemical process that they say can convert approximately one-quarter of the world's plastic waste into gasoline and diesel-like fuels," writes Slashdot reader dmoberhaus. Motherboard explains how it works: As detailed in a paper published this week in Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, the chemists discovered a way to convert polypropylene -- a type of plastic commonly used in toys, medical devices, and product packaging like potato chip bags -- into gasoline and diesel-like fuel. The researchers said that this fuel is pure enough to be used as blendstock, a main component of fuel used in motorized vehicles. Polypropylene waste accounts for just under a quarter of the estimated 5 billion tons of plastic that have amassed in the world's landfills in the last 50 years. To turn polypropylene into fuel, the researchers used supercritical water, a phase of water that demonstrates characteristics of both a liquid and a gas depending on the pressure and temperature conditions. Purdue chemist Linda Wang and her colleagues heated water to between 716 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit at pressures approximately 2300 times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level. When purified polypropylene waste was added to the supercritical water, it was converted into oil within in a few hours, depending on the temperature. At around 850 degrees Fahrenheit, the conversion time was lowered to under an hour. The byproducts of this process include gasoline and diesel-like oils. According to the researchers, their conversion process could be used to convert roughly 90 percent of the world's polypropylene waste each year into fuel.

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AI Study of Human Genome Finds Unknown Human Ancestor

Zorro shares a report from the Smithsonian: A recent study used machine learning technology to analyze eight leading models of human origins and evolution, and the program identified evidence in the human genome of a "ghost population" of human ancestors. The analysis suggests that a previously unknown and long-extinct group of hominins interbred with Homo sapiens in Asia and Oceania somewhere along the long, winding road of human evolutionary history, leaving behind only fragmented traces in modern human DNA. The study, published in Nature Communications, is one of the first examples of how machine learning can help reveal clues to our own origins. By poring through vast amounts of genomic data left behind in fossilized bones and comparing it with DNA in modern humans, scientists can begin to fill in some of the many gaps of our species' evolutionary history. "The new data suggest that the mysterious hominin was likely descended from an admixture of Neanderthals and Denisovans (who were only identified as a unique species on the human family tree in 2010)," the report adds. "Such a species in our evolutionary past would look a lot like the fossil of a 90,000-year-old teenage girl from Siberia's Denisova cave. Her remains were described last summer as the only known example of a first-generation hybrid between the two species, with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father."

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Teenager Builds Himself a Robotic Prosthetic Arm Using Lego Pieces

David Aguila, a 19-year-old bioengineering student at the Universitat Internacional de Catulunya in Spain, has built himself a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego pieces. David was born with Poland syndrome that affects his right peck and right arm. From a report: Once his favorite toys, the plastic bricks became the building material for Mr Aguilar's first, still very rudimentary, artificial arm at the age of nine, and each new version had more movement than the one before. He uses the artificial arm only occasionally and is self-sufficient without it, with all the versions on display in his room in the university residence on the outskirts of Barcelona. In November 2017 Mr Aguilar, who uses Lego pieces provided by a friend, proudly displayed a fully functional red and yellow robotic arm, built when he was 18, bending it in the elbow joint and flexing the grabber. The latest models are marked MK followed by the number -- a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armor suits. The MK II was a predominantly blue model built from a Lego plane set, including a motor, while MK III was created from a set for a piece of mining equipment. After graduating from university, he wants to create affordable prosthetic solutions for people who need them.

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Amazon’s Home Security Company Is Turning Everyone Into Cops

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Neighbors is not just a social media app: it's a service that's meant to be used with Ring security cameras, a Wi-Fi-powered home security company that was acquired by Amazon last February in a $1 billion deal. Neighbors was launched in May 2018, three months after the acquisition. If you have Ring security cameras, you can upload video content straight from your security camera to Neighbors. [...] Beyond creating a "new neighborhood watch," Amazon and Ring are normalizing the use of video surveillance and pitting neighbors against each other. Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies institutional tech policy, told Motherboard in a phone call that such a "crime and safety" focused platforms can actively reinforces racism. In Amazon's version of a "new neighborhood watch," petty crimes are policed heavily, and racism is common. Video posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown. In many ways, the Neighbors/Ring ecosystem is like a virtual gated community: people can opt themselves in by downloading the Neighbors app, and with a Ring camera, users can frame neighbors as a threat. Motherboard individually reviewed more than 100 user-submitted posts in the Neighbors app between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as "suspicious" were people of color. Motherboard placed the "home" address at the VICE offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and kept the default 5-mile neighborhood radius, meaning the neighborhood encompassed all of lower Manhattan, most of Brooklyn, and parts of Queens and Hoboken. According to the Ring Community Guidelines, the Neighbors app bans "direct threats against any individuals, bullying, harassment, and any posts that demean, defame, or discriminate," but it relies on Neighbors users to report posts that violate that rule. The guidelines also claim that only "crime and safety related content" is allowed. The guidelines do not define what qualifies as "safety," but they do encourage users to "consider the behavior that made you suspicious and whether such suspicion is reasonable." When asked if Ring moderates content on Neighbors or reviews posts for racism, a company spokesperson said, "The Neighbors app by Ring is meant to facilitate this collaboration within communities by allowing users to easily share and communicate with their neighbors and in some cases, local law enforcement, about crime and safety in real-time."

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Scientists Discover a New Kind of Magnet

Wave723 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum: A new kind of magnet, theorized for decades, may now have been experimentally proven to exist. And it could eventually lead to better data storage devices. In a normal magnet, the magnetic moments of individual grains align with each other to generate a magnetic field. In contrast, in the new "singlet-based" magnet, magnetic moments are temporary in nature, popping in and out of existence. Although a singlet-based magnet's field is unstable, the fact that such magnets can more easily transition between magnetic and non-magnetic states can make them well-suited for data storage application. Specifically, they could operate more quickly and with less power than conventional devices, says Andrew Wray, a materials physicist at New York University who led the research. Now, Wray and his colleagues have discovered the first example of a singlet-based magnet that is robust -- one made from uranium antimonide (USb2). "It ends up taking very little energy to create spin excitons for uranium antimonide," Wray says. "This is essential for the singlet-based magnet, because if it took a lot of energy, then there wouldn't be enough spin excitons to condense, stabilize one another, and give you a magnet." The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Google Might Be Working On a New Smartwatch, Report Says

According to new job listings (first spotted by Android Police), it looks like Google may start building its own wearable devices. "A job listing posted two days ago on the Google Careers site calls for a Vice President of Hardware Engineering for Wearables," reports Android Police. The description reads, "As the VP of Hardware Engineering for Wearables, you'll work collaboratively with the Senior Leadership team for Google Hardware and will be responsible for the design, development, and shipment of all Google's Wearable products. You will lead and enable the effectiveness of a large engineering organization primarily based in Mountain View to develop multiple next-generation wearable products simultaneously." From the report: Google's only current wearable product is the Pixel Buds, which hasn't been a runaway success. It seems extremely unlikely that the company would want a Vice President dedicated to producing earbuds, so it's safe to assume Google has plans for other wearable products, like fitness trackers and/or smartwatches. Another listing is for a "Wearables Design Manager," but the description is more vague. "As the Design Manager of the Wearables design team within the award-winning Google Hardware Design organization, you will be a critical leader and contributor to guide the efforts in defining and evolving what it means to hold 'Google in your hand.'"

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Apple’s Internal Hardware Team Is Working On Modems That Will Likely Replace Intel

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple will design its own modems in-house, according to sources that spoke with Reuters. In doing so, the company may hope to leave behind Intel modems in its mobile devices, which Apple has used since a recent falling out with Qualcomm. According to the sources, the team working on modem design now reports to Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies. Srouji joined Apple back in 2004 and led development of Apple's first in-house system-on-a-chip, the A4. He has overseen Apple silicon ever since, including the recent A12 and A12X in the new iPhone and iPad Pro models. Before this move, Apple's modem work ultimately fell under Dan Riccio, who ran engineering for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. As Reuters noted, that division was heavily focused on managing the supply chain and working with externally made components. The fact that the team is moving into the group focused on developing in-house components is a strong signal that Apple will not be looking outside its own walls for modems in the future. In recent years, Apple has been locked in a costly and complex series of legal battles with Qualcomm, the industry's foremost maker of mobile wireless chips. While Apple previously used Qualcomm's chips in its phones, the legal struggles led the tech giant to turn instead to Intel in recent iPhones.

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Australia Parliamentary Network Hacked In Possible Foreign Government Attack

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Sydney Morning Herald: National security agencies are continuing to scour the Parliament's computer network for threats to MPs' data after what is being described as a "sophisticated" hack attack that could be the work of a foreign government. Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, said the government's cyber experts would work over coming days and weeks to make sure all the breaches had been detected and the hackers' presence removed. The hacking comes just three months ahead of the federal election, prompting fears that if MPs emails or data were stolen they could be used to cause political interference of the style Russia perpetrated against the United States in the 2016 presidential campaign. Sources said the fact that Parliament had significantly upgraded its cyber defense since an attack by Chinese intelligence agencies in 2011 suggested the latest hackers were highly skilled, potentially pointing to a foreign government. Mr MacGibbon stressed it was too early to say who was behind the attack but said this part of the investigation. The network is used by all MPs, including ministers. House Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan said in a joint statement there was "no evidence that any data has been accessed or taken at this time, however this will remain subject to ongoing investigation." They said they had no evidence the hack was an effort to "influence the outcome of parliamentary processes or to disrupt or influence electoral or political processes."

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Google Warns News Sites May Lose 45 Percent of Traffic If EU Passes Its Copyright Reform

Google's SVP of Global Affairs, Kent Walker, laid out Google's opposition to the EU's highly contested copyright reform rules. "Google warns Article 11 and Article 13 could have catastrophic effects on the creative economy in Europe by hampering user uploads and news sharing," reports The Next Web. From the report: Article 11 in its current form will limit news aggregators' abilities to show snippets of articles. According to Google's own experiments, the impact of it only showing URLs, very short fragments of headlines, and no preview images would be a "substantial traffic loss to news publishers." "Even a moderate version of the experiment (where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails) led to a 45 percent reduction in traffic to news publishers," Walker explained. "Our experiment demonstrated that many users turned instead to non-news sites, social media platforms, and online video sites -- another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism." "Article 11, called the 'link tax' by opponents, requires anyone who copies a snippet of text from a publisher's articles to have a license to do so," reports ZDNet. "Article 13 demands that online platforms filter and block uploads of copyright-infringing material." The European Parliament approved Article 11 and Section 13 in September. The finalized version may be passed in March or April of this year.

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Google Fiber Abandoning Louisville Residents With Two Months Notice

stoborrobots writes: Google Fiber is leaving Louisville, as reported in The Verge: "Google Fiber's attempt to roll out its gigabit internet across the city of Louisville, Kentucky has apparently failed so spectacularly that the company has decided to completely shut down the service and leave town altogether. CNET has a report on the news, which Alphabet's Access division confirmed in a blog post on Thursday. 'We'll work with our customers and partners to minimize disruption, and we're committed to doing right by the community, which welcomed us as we tested methods of delivering high-speed internet in new and different ways,' the Fiber team said." TechCrunch's take: "It's a rare admission of defeat for Google Fiber, though it's no secret that the company isn't exactly bullish on the prospect of the service anymore. Louisville was supposed to be somewhat of a comeback for Google Fiber, which like so many Google services is now under more pressure to generate a profit. Clearly, that didn't work out." The issue apparently has to do with "shallow trenching," a process that involves laying fiber cable two inches beneath the sides of roads in the city and covering them up with sealant. "The company seemed optimistic about this plan until some of the cable started becoming exposed over time, requiring a second cover-up with hot asphalt," reports The Verge. "It seems Access realized it had to go a bit deeper with the cabling; in San Antonio, a similar method is used -- but the fiber is laid at least six inches deep into the ground." "Unfortunately, things have somehow gone so awry in Louisville that Google Fiber claims it would need to rebuild the entire network to get everything to a satisfactory point, and it seems Alphabet just isn't interested in blowing the cash that would be necessary to do that. So instead, Google Fiber will today alert Louisville customers that their service will end on April 15th." In an attempt to soften the blow, Google Fiber says it will not charge customers for their final two months of service.

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Scientists Are Working On Ways To Swap the Needle For a Pill

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: One team of scientists, from MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, developed a system to deliver insulin that actually still uses a needle -- but is so small you can swallow it and the injection doesn't hurt. They built a pea-size device containing a spring that ejects a tiny dart of solid insulin into the wall of the stomach, says gastroenterologist Carlo Giovanni Traverso, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "We chose the stomach as the site of delivery because we recognized that the stomach is a thick and robust part of the GI tract," Traverso says. Once the device gets into the stomach, the humidity there allows the spring to launch the insulin dart. As the researchers report in the journal Science, they've tested the device on pigs, and it can deliver a therapeutic dose of insulin provided the pig has an empty stomach. On the other side of the U.S., nanoengineer Ronnie Fang of the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues have a different delivery system. Theirs is a kind of ingestible microrocket, about the size of a grain of sand, that is designed to zip past the stomach and into the small intestine. "It actually propels [itself] using bubbles in a reaction of magnesium with biological fluids," Fang says. The rocket has a coating that protects its payload from the acidic and enzyme-filled environment of the stomach. Once the rocket enters the small intestine, the change in acidity causes the coating to dissolve and lets the rocket stick to the intestinal wall to release its payload, in this case a vaccine protein. As Fang and his colleagues report in Nano Letters, their delivery system works in mice, but human testing is probably many years off.

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Ex-Cons Create ‘Instagram For Prisons,’ and Wardens Are Fine With That

Bloomberg's Olivia Carville writes about three apps that are offering a cheaper way for families to connect with incarcerated loved ones. Here's an excerpt from her report: Pigeonly and its ilk have hit on a communication model -- a necessarily inelegant one -- that meets inmates' desire for a more tangible connection while serving the social-media habits of their loved ones. One of the apps, Flikshop, has been affectionately dubbed the "Instagram for prisons." It's an imperfect metaphor perhaps, but the app is the closest thing to the social network in prison, and Flikshop postcards are pinned up on cell walls across the U.S. Beyond giving prisoners an easier, cheaper and more fulfilling way to communicate, the men who started these apps also want to make inmates less likely to re-offend because they see there's a life to be lived on the outside. Decades of research show that recidivism rates fall when prisoners are in regular contact with family. Criminal justice advocacy groups and rehabilitation non-profits have already started using the apps to make the prison population aware of their services. Frederick Hutson, 34, started Pigeonly, Inc. in 2013, fresh from a five-year stint in federal prison for drug trafficking. "I saw first-hand how difficult and expensive it was to stay in touch," Hutson says. "I also saw how much of an impact that made on the person behind bars. I would see the guys that had the financial means to stay in touch and when they left prison I would hear that they were doing well, but those who didn't have the support network on the outside -- I'd see them coming back in." Pigeonly -- named for the pigeon post services of wartime fame -- wants to become a bridge between those who live in a digital world and those who are imprisoned in an analog one. Customers subscribe to the app for a monthly fee, ranging from $7.99 to $19.99, in order to send photos and messages and have access to cheaper online phone rates. Pigeonly has 20 full-time staff, half of whom were previously incarcerated themselves. Every day, they send up to 4,000 mail orders into county, state and federal penitentiaries across the country.

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The Moto G7 Lineup Offers Bigger Screens and Smaller Bezels On a Budget

Motorola is releasing three versions of the Moto G7 this year: the G7, the G7 Power, and the G7 Play (a fourth, more powerful G7 Plus model will also be released internationally). These new devices offer slimmer bezels, bigger displays, and larger batteries than their predecessors. The Verge reports: [T]he $299 G7 (not to be confused with LG's G7 ThinQ) is the top-of-the-line model, with a 6.2-inch Gorilla Glass display that features a 2270 x 1080 resolution and a more subtle teardrop notch. The G7 also has more RAM (4GB), and more internal storage (64GB) than its siblings, along with a dual-camera setup on the back that offers a 12-megapixel main lens along with a 5-megapixel depth sensor for a better portrait mode experience (the other G7 phones will have a software-based portrait mode instead). The G7 also supports Motorola's 15W TurboPower charging spec, which promises nine hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge. The next phone in the lineup, the $249 G7 Power, may not offer the same level of premium upgrades as the G7, but it does offer an intriguing feature that its pricier counterpart doesn't: a massive 5,000mAh battery that Motorola promises should last for up to three days, besting the 3,000mAh battery in the G7 by a considerable amount (it also supports Motorola's TurboPower charging). The G7 Power also features a 6.2-inch display, but at a lower 1520 x 720 resolution and with a larger notch, and only a single 12-megapixel camera on the back. It also drops down to 3GB of RAM and a base storage of 32GB, and is a bit bulkier than the main G7 -- but if sheer battery life is your goal, it seems like the G7 Power will be tough to beat. Lastly, there's the $199 G7 Play, the smallest and cheapest model in the 2019 Moto G lineup. There are more cuts here: a smaller 5.7-inch 1512 x 720 display with an even larger notch than the G7 Power, a cheaper plastic case, and just 2GB of RAM. All three devices will feature Qualcomm's mid-tier Snapdragon 632 processor, Android 9.0 Pie, 8-megapixel front-facing cameras, charge via USB-C, and offer rear-mounted fingerprint sensors. Lastly, the 3.5mm headphone jack is still included on all three models. Motorola is promising a release date sometime in the spring for both the U.S. and Canada.

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NCTA Asks For Net Neutrality Law Allowing Paid Prioritization

DarkRookie2 shares a report from Ars Technica: Cable industry chief lobbyist Michael Powell today asked Congress for a net neutrality law that would ban blocking and throttling but allow Internet providers to charge for prioritization under certain circumstances. Powell -- a Republican who was FCC chairman from 2001 to 2005 and is now CEO of cable lobby group NCTA -- spoke to lawmakers today at a Communications and Technology subcommittee hearing on net neutrality. Powell said there is "common ground around the basic tenets of net neutrality rules: There should be no blocking or throttling of lawful content. There should be no paid prioritization that creates fast lanes and slow lanes, absent public benefit. And, there should be transparency to consumers over network practices." Despite Powell's claim of "common ground," his statement on paid prioritization illustrates a divide between the broadband industry and proponents of net neutrality rules. Obama-era Federal Communications Commission rules banned paid prioritization as well as blocking and throttling, while Trump's FCC overturned the ban on all three practices. Net neutrality advocates are trying to restore those rules in full in a court case against the FCC, and any net neutrality law proposed by Democrats in Congress would likely mirror the Obama-era FCC rules. Republican lawmakers are preparing legislation that would impose weaker rules. The report notes that Powell's proposal for paid prioritization is full of caveats: "There should be no paid prioritization that creates fast lanes and slow lanes, absent public benefit." "His testimony to Congress didn't explain how ISPs can charge online services for prioritization without dividing Internet access into fast lanes and slow lanes, and his statement seems to indicate that slow lanes would be allowed as long as the paid prioritization creates some 'public benefit,'" reports Ars. "How 'public benefit' would be defined or who would determine which paid priority schemes benefit the public are not clear."

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Apple Tells App Developers To Disclose Or Remove Screen Recording Code

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps -- or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm. In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: "Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity." "We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary," the spokesperson added. It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user's app activity. Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data -- like passport numbers and credit card numbers -- was leaking.

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Spotify Bans Ad Blockers In Updated ToS

In an updated Terms of Service policy sent out on Thursday, Spotify is now explicitly banning ad blockers. "The new rules specifically state that 'circumventing or blocking advertisements in the Spotify Service, or creating or distributing tools designed to block advertisements in the Spotify Service' can result in immediate termination or suspension of your account," reports The Verge. From the report: The service already takes significant measures to limit ad blockers. In a DigiDay report from last August, a Spotify spokesperson revealed that the company has "multiple detection measures in place monitoring consumption on the service to detect, investigate and deal with [artificial manipulation of streaming activity]." After it was reported last March that 2 million users (about 2 percent of free Spotify users) were dodging ads with modded apps and accounts, Spotify began cracking down by disabling accounts when the company detected abnormal activity. Users were sent email warnings and given the chance to reactivate their accounts after uninstalling the ad-blocking software. In some rare cases where the problem persisted, Spotify would terminate the account. The new Terms of Service, which go into effect on March 1st, will give Spotify the authority to terminate accounts immediately, without warning.

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AMD Radeon VII Graphics Card Launched, Benchmarks Versus NVIDIA GeForce RTX

MojoKid writes: AMD officially launched its new Radeon VII flagship graphics card today, based on the company's 7nm second-generation Vega architecture. In addition to core GPU optimizations, Radeon VII provides 2X the graphics memory at 16GB and 2.1X the memory bandwidth at a full 1TB/s, compared to AMD's previous generation Radeon RX Vega 64. The move to 7nm allowed AMD to shrink the Vega 20 GPU die down to 331 square millimeters. This shrink and the subsequent silicon die area saving is what allowed them to add an additional two stacks of HBM2 memory and increase the high-bandwidth cache (frame buffer) capacity to 16GB. The GPU on board the Radeon VII has 60CUs and a total of 3,840 active stream processors with a board power TDP of 300 Watts. As you might expect, it's a beast in the benchmarks that's able to pull ahead of NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 2080 in spots but ultimately lands somewhere in between the performance of an RTX 2070 and 2080 overall. AMD Radeon VII cards will be available in a matter of days at an MSRP of $699 with custom boards from third-party partners showing up shortly as well.

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Green New Deal Bill Aims To Move US To 100 Percent Renewable Energy, Net-Zero Emissions

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Thursday morning, NPR posted a bill drafted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) advocating for a Green New Deal -- that is, a public works bill aimed at employing Americans and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate change. A similar version of the bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The House bill opens by citing two recent climate change reports: an October 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a heavily peer-reviewed report released in November 2018 by a group of U.S. scientists from federal energy and environment departments. Both reports were unequivocal about the role that humans play in climate change and the dire consequences humans stand to face if climate change continues unchecked. The bill lists some of these consequences: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the U.S. by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to U.S. infrastructure and coastal property. To stop this, the bill says, the global greenhouse gas emissions from human sources must be reduced by 40 to 60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and we must reach net-zero emissions by 2050. [...] The Green New Deal specifically calls for a 10-year mobilization plan that would "achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers" by creating "millions" of high-paying jobs through investment in U.S. infrastructure. Specific kinds of infrastructure aren't listed, but general categories or works projects are outlined. Adaptive infrastructure tailored to communities, like higher sea walls and new drainage systems, would be included. NPR notes that the language is classified as a non-binding resolution, "meaning that even if it were to pass... it wouldn't itself create any new programs. Instead, it would potentially affirm the sense of the House that these things should be done in the coming years." Surprisingly, the bill doesn't mention fossil fuels at all. "In a draft version of the Green New Deal that had been circulated in December, a Frequently Asked Questions section did not preclude eventually calling for a tax or a ban on fossil fuels, but it noted that this was not what the bill was about," notes Ars Technica. "Simply put, we don't need to just stop doing some things we are doing (like using fossil fuels for energy needs)," the FAQ notes under the Green New Deal draft language. "We also need to start doing new things (like overhauling whole industries or retrofitting all buildings to be energy efficient). Starting to do new things requires some upfront investment."

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Many Popular iPhone Apps Secretly Record Your Screen Without Asking

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Many major companies, like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia, are recording every tap and swipe you make on their iPhone apps. In most cases you won't even realize it. And they don't need to ask for permission. You can assume that most apps are collecting data on you. Some even monetize your data without your knowledge. But TechCrunch has found several popular iPhone apps, from hoteliers, travel sites, airlines, cell phone carriers, banks and financiers, that don't ask or make it clear -- if at all -- that they know exactly how you're using their apps. Worse, even though these apps are meant to mask certain fields, some inadvertently expose sensitive data. Apps like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com and Singapore Airlines also use Glassbox, a customer experience analytics firm, one of a handful of companies that allows developers to embed "session replay" technology into their apps. These session replays let app developers record the screen and play them back to see how its users interacted with the app to figure out if something didn't work or if there was an error. Every tap, button push and keyboard entry is recorded -- effectively screenshotted -- and sent back to the app developers. [...] Apps that are submitted to Apple's App Store must have a privacy policy, but none of the apps we reviewed make it clear in their policies that they record a user's screen. Glassbox doesn't require any special permission from Apple or from the user, so there's no way a user would know. When asked, Glassbox said it doesn't enforce its customers to mention its usage in their privacy policy. A mobile expert known as The App Analyst recently found Air Canada's iPhone app to be improperly masking the session replays when they were sent, exposing passport numbers and credit card data in each replay session. Just weeks earlier, Air Canada said its app had a data breach, exposing 20,000 profiles.

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Bees Can Solve Math Problems With Addition and Subtraction

According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, researchers from Australia and France have shown that bees can perform simple arithmetic, adding and subtracting small numbers by studying color-coded shapes. CNET reports: To test the buzzers' ability to perform arithmetic, the team used a three-chambered maze shaped like a Y, training bees to enter through a hole into a small chamber where they would see their first stimulus: blue or yellow shapes on a plain, grey background. The number of shapes varied between 1 and 5 and the color of the shapes told the bee whether it needed to add one (blue) or subtract one (yellow) from the initial number. The bee then flew into a subsequent chamber which presented both a correct option and an incorrect option. To train the bees, the correct option rewarded the critters with a drop of tasty sugar solution -- a delightful dessert for the bee. On the other hand, selecting the incorrect solution resulted in a nasty drop of quinine -- like a slab of Brussels sprouts slathered in chocolate. The testing procedure itself focused on 14 bees undergoing four tests of 10 choices. The tests themselves were "non-reinforced," so they didn't receive reward or punishment when selecting their "answers" during testing. Because the bees were subjected to two answers each time, the expectation is that -- purely by chance -- they would select the correct answer 50 percent of the time. But the bees performed significantly better than chance would predict, selecting the correct answer around 65 percent of the time.

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Huawei Admits To Needing 5 Years, $2 Billion To Fix Security Issues

Bruce66423 writes: In a remarkable piece of honest self assessment, Huawei has produced a letter to a House of Commons committee member in response to security concerns raised by the UK Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in its annual report, a body that includes Huawei, UK operators and UK government officials. The firm pledged to spend about $2 billion over five years to resolve these issues. However they also claim that: "Huawei has never and will never use UK-based hardware, software or information gathered in the UK or anywhere else globally, to assist other countries in gathering intelligence. We would not do this in any country" -- a claim in sharp contrast to the ability of the Communist Party of China to suborn anyone into doing so. Good to see that Chinese firms still have a sense of humor. As The Economist puts it: "And China's leaders are tightening their grip on business, including firms such as Huawei in which the state has no stake. This influence has been formalized in the National Intelligence Law of 2017, which requires firms to work with China's one-party state."

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NYPD To Google: Stop Revealing the Location of Police Checkpoints

schwit1 shares a report from the New York Post: The NYPD is calling on Google to yank a feature from its Waze traffic app that tips off drivers to police checkpoints -- warning it could be considered "criminal conduct," according to a report on Wednesday. The department sent a cease-and-desist letter over the weekend demanding Google disable the crowd-sourced app's function that allows motorists to pinpoint police whereabouts, StreetsBlog reported. "Individuals who post the locations of DWI checkpoints may be engaging in criminal conduct since such actions could be intentional attempts to prevent and/or impair the administration of the DWI laws and other relevant criminal and traffic laws," wrote Acting Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Ann Prunty in the letter, according to the website. My $0.02 is that the NYPD loses on first amendment grounds.

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Global Warming Could Exceed 1.5C Within Five Years, Report Says

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office. Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century. Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward. In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark. Climatologists stressed this did not mean the world had broken the Paris agreement 80 years ahead of schedule because international temperature targets are based on 30-year averages. Although it would be an outlier, scientists said the first appearance in their long-term forecasts of such a "temporary excursion" was worrying, particularly for regions that are usually hard hit by extreme weather related to El Nino. This includes western Australia, South America, south and west Africa, and the Indian monsoon belt.

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Facebook Will Reveal Who Uploaded Your Contact Info For Ad Targeting

In March, TechCrunch discovered Facebook planned to require advertisers pledge that they had permission to upload someone's phone number or email address for ad targeting. That tool debuted in June, though there was no verification process and Facebook just took businesses at their word despite the financial incentive to lie. In November, Facebook launched a way for ad agencies and marketing tech developers to specify who they were buying promotions "on behalf of." Soon that information will finally be revealed to users. From the report: Starting February 28th, Facebook's "Why am I seeing this?" button in the drop-down menu of feed posts will reveal more than the brand who paid for the ad, some biographical details they targeted, and if they'd uploaded your contact info. Facebook will start to show when your contact info was uploaded, if it was by the brand or one of their agency/developer partners, and when access was shared between partners. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the goal to keep giving people a better understanding of how advertisers use their information. This new level of transparency could help users pinpoint what caused a brand to get ahold of their contact info. That might help them to change their behavior to stay more private. The system could also help Facebook zero in on agencies or partners who are constantly uploading contact info and might not have attained it legitimately. Apparently seeking not to dredge up old privacy problems, Facebook didn't publish a blog post about the change but simply announced it in a Facebook post to the Facebook Advertiser Hub Page.

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Mozilla Announces Project Fission, a Project To Add True Multi-Process Support To Firefox

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: After a year of secret preparations, Mozilla has publicly announced plans today to implement a "site isolation" feature, which works by splitting Firefox code in isolated OS processes, on a per-domain (site) basis. The concept behind this feature isn't new, as it's already present in Chrome, since May 2018. Currently, Firefox comes with one process for the browser's user interface, and a few (two to ten) processes for the Firefox code that renders the websites. With Project Fission (as this was named), Firefox split processes will change, and a separate one will be created for each website a user is accessing. This separation will be so fine-grained that just like in Chrome, if there's an iframe on the page, that iframe will receive its own process as well, helping protect users from threat actors that hide malicious code inside iframes (HTML elements that load other websites inside the current website). This is the same approach Chrome has taken with its "Site Isolation."

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Researchers Develop a Non-Toxic Thermoelectric Generator For Wearable Tech

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have developed a new method of harvesting electricity from body heat to power wearable devices. "The new, wearable thermoelectric generator is also sourced from non-toxic and non-allergenic substances, making it a viable candidate for wearable technology," reports IEEE Spectrum. Furthermore, "the substrate on which the generator is built is plain old cotton fabric." From the report: More precisely, it's a vapor-deposited strip of cotton fabric -- coated with a material called, brace yourself, "persistently p-doped poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)" a.k.a. PEDOT-Cl. One end of the fabric touches a person's skin and is thus at a person's body temperature. The other end, ideally, is exposed to the open air. The greater the difference in temperature between the two ends, the greater the electrical output. [...] The innovation here was to vapor deposit their polymer only onto the surface of the cotton fibers -- and not soak the entire cloth in the polymer. By keeping the semiconducting material on the surface, they could allow for charge to flow through the material while still thermally insulating one end of the generator from the other. This stems from the competing demands of a good thermoelectric conductor. The ideal material must somehow keep one side hot and the other side cold -- in other words, the material must be thermally insulating. However, it must at the same time conduct electrons. Electrical current needs to flow, or it's not a very good generator. With this vapor deposition trick, she says, "The polymer can be really, really electrically conductive." And PEDOT-Cl fills that bill. However, because the polymer is only coated on the outer surface of the cotton fibers, the bulk of the material (i.e. the cotton) is still able to perform its thermally insulating role. The research has been published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

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Reddit, Banned In China, Is Reportedly Set To Land $150 Million Investment From a Chinese Censorship Powerhouse

Reddit is about to get a huge new round of investment of up to $300 million. As Gizmodo points out, "the first $150 million is reportedly expected to come from the Chinese tech giant Tencent, the first ever Asian technology company to pass a $500 billion market value." The investment is complicated since Reddit is banned in China via the Great Firewall of China. Also, "Tencent is not merely a resident of China's internet -- the company is one of the most important architects of the Great Firewall," reports Gizmodo. "It's an interesting source of cash for a Silicon Valley company whose product is essentially speech." From the report: Tencent is, at great cost and ultimately for great profit, literally reinventing censorship in China. The Great Firewall was not built by the Communist Party in Beijing, it's built by the tech giants all around China. This opaque but clearly powerful relationship between the $500 billion company and the Chinese government raises interesting and unanswered questions about Tencent's forays into the West, including questions about Reddit's future. The pending Chinese investment in Reddit, a social media company with relatively little Chinese-language community, is a richer twist on that old tale, and it's a part of Tencent's expanding global investment strategy. The Chinese company owns about 12 percent of Snap, for instance, even though Snapchat is banned in China. Tencent also owns a piece of the chat app Discord even though, you guessed it, Discord is blocked in China. If Tencent does kick in $150 million on a nearly $3 billion valuation for Reddit, as TechCrunch reports, it will be interesting if we ever find out exactly what it means. What kind of influence and position, if any, will Tencent gain at Reddit? Neither company responded to Gizmodo's questions.

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After Facing Class-Action Lawsuit, Instacart CEO Says It’s Taking Steps To Ensure Tips Are Counted Separately From Wages

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: On the heels of a recently-filed class action lawsuit over wages and tips, as well as drivers and shoppers speaking out about Instacart's alleged practices of subsidizing wages with tips, Instacart is taking steps to ensure tips are counted separately from what Instacart pays shoppers. In a blog post today, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said all shoppers will now have a guaranteed higher base compensation, paid by Instacart. Depending on the region, Instacart says it will pay shoppers between $7 to $10 at a minimum for full-service orders (shopping, picking and delivering) and $5 at a minimum for delivery-only tasks. The company will also stop including tips in its base pay for shoppers. "After launching our new earnings structure this past October, we noticed that there were small batches where shoppers weren't earning enough for their time," Mehta wrote. "To help with this, we instituted a $10 floor on earnings, inclusive of tips, for all batches. This meant that when Instacart's payment and the customer tip at checkout was below $10, Instacart supplemented the difference. While our intention was to increase the guaranteed payment for small orders, we understand that the inclusion of tips as a part of this guarantee was misguided. We apologize for taking this approach." For the shoppers who were subject that approach, Instacart says it will retroactively pay people whose tips were included in payment minimums. Previously, Instacart guaranteed its workers at least $10 per job, but workers said Instacart offsets wages with tips from customers. The suit alleges Instacart "intentionally and maliciously misappropriated gratuities in order to pay plaintiff's wages even though Instacart maintained that 100 percent of customer tips went directly to shoppers. Based on this representation, Instacart knew customers would believe their tips were being given to shoppers in addition to wages, not to supplement wages entirely."

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Ex-FCC Commissioner Advises T-Mobile, Sprint On $26 Billion Merger

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is working to help T-Mobile and Sprint get their $26 billion merger approved by regulators. Clyburn, a Democrat, confirmed she's working as a paid consultant to the carriers to advise them on their impending merger. The news of her involvement was first reported by Politico on Monday. The companies, whose merger was announced in April last year, need approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the US Department of Justice. "Affordable broadband access is a critical priority particularly for those Americans who are underserved or currently have no viable options at all," she said in an interview with CNET. "I am advising T-Mobile and Sprint as they seek to accelerate the creation of an inclusive nationwide 5G network on how best to build a bridge across the digital divide that currently exists in our country." Clyburn's involvement in advising the merger is interesting because she was part of the majority on the FCC in 2011 that rejected the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, concluding that a reduction in the number of national carriers would harm consumers. When the idea of a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint was first floated in 2014, the Democratic-controlled FCC also signaled it wouldn't approve the deal for the same reason. [...] Executives for the companies say they will not raise rates on consumers. In a letter to the FCC on Monday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere made a personal pledge to regulators that the "New T-Mobile" would not raise prices on its service following the merger. Doing so, he said, would erode the relationship with T-Mobile customers.

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Apple Reaches Deal With France To Pay Estimated $571 Million In Back-Taxes

Apple has reached a deal with French authorities to pay an undeclared amount of back-dated tax. While the amount isn't disclosed, French media suggest the sum is around $571 million (500 million euros). MacRumors reports: France has been working diligently to stop tech companies like Apple from exploiting tax loopholes in the country. The loopholes are said to have allowed Apple to "minimize taxes and grab market share" at the expense of Europe-based companies. French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the leaders behind the tax crackdown on international tech companies, with a goal of bringing a more unified corporate tax system across the nineteen euro area states. As noted by iPhon.fr, Apple and French tax authorities reached the agreement for the payment of several years of unpaid taxes in December, according to French newspaper L'Expansion. The agreement followed a meeting in October between Apple CEO Tim Cook and President Macron, in which both reportedly agreed that a solution would ultimately be enacted by the European Union rather than France.

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The Shape of the Milky Way Is Warped and Twisted

Necroloth writes: You probably thought that if you were looking at our galaxy from the outside and at a distance, you would see a thin disc of stars that orbit around a central region, but the further away from the inner regions of the Milky Way you are, the less the pull of gravity. At the outer disc, the hydrogen atoms that make up the Milky Way's gas disc are, as a consequence, warped into an S-like shape, no longer pulled together in a thin plane. A group of astronomers from Australia and China have built their "intuitive and accurate three-dimensional picture" by mapping 1339 classical Cepheids. There's a quick animation of the galaxy on the @NatureAstronomy twitter here. The study has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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As Magnetic North Pole Zooms Toward Siberia, Scientists Update World Magnetic Model

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Earth's geographic north pole is fixed. But the planet's magnetic north pole -- the north that your compass points toward -- wanders in the direction of Siberia at a rate of more than 34 miles per year. That movement may seem slow, but it has forced scientists to update their model of Earth's magnetic field a year earlier than expected so that navigational services, including map-based phone apps, continue to work accurately. The drift results from processes taking place at the center of the planet. Molten iron and nickel slosh and spin in the planet's core, essentially serving as a metallic conductor for Earth's magnetic field. Changes in that fluid flow lead to changes in the magnetic field. As a result of those changes, the accuracy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's World Magnetic Model (WMM) -- a mathematical representation of the magnetic field -- slowly deteriorates in the five-year periods between updates. The next update was due in 2020. But "unplanned variations" have degraded the quality of the WMM so greatly that NOAA published an out-of-cycle update Monday. It was delayed from January by the partial government shutdown.

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New Technique Allows Scientists To Create Materials That Get Stronger With More Use

Scientists at Hokkaido University have found a way to create materials that actually get stronger the more you use them. "By mimicking the mechanism that allows living muscles to grow and strengthen after exercise, the team led by Jian Ping Gong developed a polymer that breaks down under mechanical stress, then regrows itself into a stronger configuration by feeding off a nutrient bath," reports New Atlas. From the report: To achieve this, the Hokkaido team used what is called double-network hydrogels. Like other hydrogels, these are polymers that are 85 percent water by weight, but in this case, the material consist of both a rigid, brittle polymer and a soft, stretchable one. In this way, the finished product is both soft and tough. However, the clever bit is that under laboratory conditions the hydrogel was immersed in a bath of monomers, which are the individual molecular links that make up a polymer. These serve the same function in the muscle-mimicking material as amino acids do in living tissue. According to the team, when the hydrogel is stretched, some of the brittle polymer chains break, creating a chemical species called "mechanoradicals" at the end of the broken polymer chains. These are very reactive and quickly join up with the floating monomers to form a new, stronger polymer chain. Under testing, the hydrogel acted much like muscles under strength training. It became 1.5 times stronger, 23 times stiffer, and increased in weight by 86 percent. It was even possible to control the properties of the material by using heat-sensitive monomers and applying high temperatures to make it more water resistant. Gong says this approach could lead to materials suitable for a variety of applications, such as in flexible exosuits for patients with skeletal injuries that become stronger with use. The study has been published in the journal Science. For those interested, the researchers have published a video discussing the new hydrogel material.

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Women’s Brains Are ‘Four Years Younger’ Than Men’s, Study Finds

Women's brains are nearly four years younger than men's, at least in how they burn fuel, according to scans performed by U.S. researchers. "Scientists found that healthy women have a 'metabolic brain age' that is persistently younger than men's of the same chronological age," reports The Guardian. "The difference is apparent from early adulthood and remains into old age." From the report: The finding suggests that changes in how the brain uses energy over a person's lifetime proceed more gradually in women than they do in men. While researchers are unsure of the medical consequences, it may help explain why women tend to stay mentally sharp for longer. "Brain metabolism changes with age but what we noticed is that a good deal of the variation we see is down to sex differences," said Marcus Raichle, a neurobiologist at Washington University school of medicine in St Louis. "If you look at how brain metabolism predicts a person's age, women come out looking about four years younger than they are." The scientists used a brain scanning technique called positron emission tomography to measure the flow of oxygen and glucose in the brains of 121 women and 84 men aged 20 to 82. The scans revealed how sugar was being turned into energy in different parts of the volunteers' brains. To see how brain metabolism differed between the sexes, the researchers used a computer algorithm to predict people's ages based on brain metabolism as measured by the scans. First, the scientists taught it to predict men's ages from metabolism data gleaned from the male brain scans. The striking result came when the scientists fed metabolism data from the women into the same program. While the program estimated male ages accurately, it judged the women's brains to be, on average, 3.8 years younger than their real ages. "The scientists then flipped the analysis around," the report adds. "They trained the algorithm to predict women's ages from data garnered from their brain scans. This time, when they fed metabolism data from the men into the computer, it estimated them to be 2.4 years older than they were. The way male brains burned sugar made them seem older than female ones of the same age." The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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An AI Is Playing Pictionary To Figure Out How the World Works

Researchers at the Allen Institute for AI (Ai2) believe that Pictionary could push machine intelligence beyond its current limits. To that end, they have devised an online version of the game that pairs a human player with an AI program. MIT Technology Review reports: In case you've never played it before, Pictionary involves trying to draw an image that conveys a written word or phrase for your teammates to guess. This tests a person's drawing skills but also the ability to convey complex meaning using simple concepts. Given the phrase "wedding ring," for example, a player might try to draw the object itself but also a bride and groom or a wedding ceremony. That makes it the perfect vehicle to help teach machines. The team developed an online version of the game, called Iconary, that pairs a user with an AI bot called AllenAI. Both take turns as the artist and the guesser. Playing as artist, a user is given a phrase and then has to sketch things to convey it. The sketches are first turned into clip-art icons using computer vision; then the computer program tries to guess the phrase using a database of words and concepts and the relationship between them. If the program gets only part of the phrase, it will ask for another image to clarify. The AI program uses a combination of AI techniques to draw and guess. Over time, by playing against enough people, AllenAI should learn from their common-sense understanding of how concepts (like "books" and "pages") go together in everyday life, Fahadi says. It will also help the researchers explore ways for humans and machines to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

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Colin Kroll, Founder of HQ Trivia and Vine, Died of Accidental Drug Overdose

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC New York: Colin Kroll, the co-founder of HQ Trivia and Vine, died of an accidental overdose, the city's medical examiner announced Tuesday. According to the autopsy results, Kroll died of "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine." Kroll, 34, was found dead in his SoHo, Manhattan, apartment on Dec. 16, 2018. Police responded to a 911 call for a welfare check at the Spring Street apartment where they found Kroll unconscious and unresponsive in a bedroom of the apartment, a New York Police Department spokesman previously told NBC News. Kroll was named the chief executive of HQ Trivia, a phone-based trivia platform, in September. Prior to that, Kroll co-founded Vine, the popular short-form video service acquired in 2012 by Twitter. Vine was discontinued four years later.

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House Democrats Tell Ajit Pai: Stop Screwing Over the Public

slack_justyb shares a report from Ars Technica: The House Commerce Committee is "reassuming its traditional role of oversight to ensure the agency is acting in the best interest of the public and consistent with its legislative authority," Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said in an announcement yesterday. Pallone, Jr. and Doyle wrote a letter to Pai, saying that he has made the FCC too secretive and has repeatedly advanced the interests of corporations over consumers. They wrote: "Not only have you have failed on numerous occasions to provide Democratic members of this committee with responses to their inquiries, you have also repeatedly denied or delayed responding to legitimate information requests from the public about agency operations. These actions have denied the public of a full and fair understanding of how the FCC under your leadership has arrived at public policy decisions that impact Americans every day in communities across the country. Under your leadership, the FCC has failed repeatedly to act in the public interest and placed the interest of corporations over consumers. The FCC should be working to advance the goals of public safety, consumer protection, affordable access, and connectivity across the United States. To that end, it is incumbent upon the Committee's leadership and its members to oversee the activities of the FCC." On Thursday this week, the Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing about the impact of Pai's net neutrality repeal on consumers, small businesses, and free speech. Witnesses who have been invited to testify at the hearing include former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, cable industry chief lobbyist Michael Powell (who is also a former FCC chairman), and representatives of Mozilla, Free Press, and Eastern Oregon Telecom.

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Amazon Finally Admitted To Investors That It Has a Counterfeit Problem

Amazon has for the first time acknowledged sales of counterfeits and pirated items as a risk in its annual earnings report to investors and the U.S. SEC. "Some third-party sellers have been using the reach of Amazon's marketplace as an opportunity to sell counterfeit and pirated items," reports Quartz. "The pressure on the company has been growing as brands such as Birkenstock and Mercedes Benz have lambasted it for not being able to control the problem." From the report: Under the section of "risk factors" to the business, Amazon says it "could be liable" for the activities of its sellers, and explains: "Under our seller programs, we may be unable to prevent sellers from collecting payments, fraudulently or otherwise, when buyers never receive the products they ordered or when the products received are materially different from the sellers' descriptions. We also may be unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies. Under our A2Z Guarantee, we reimburse buyers for payments up to certain limits in these situations, and as our third-party seller sales grow, the cost of this program will increase and could negatively affect our operating results. In addition, to the extent any of this occurs, it could harm our business or damage our reputation and we could face civil or criminal liability for unlawful activities by our sellers."

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Teenager Who Found FaceTime Bug Will Be Eligible For Bug Bounty Program

Grant Thompson, the teenager that reported the FaceTime bug last week, will be eligible for the Apple bug bounty program. "Apple's bug bounty system is typically invite-only and limited to specific categories of security flaws, like accessing iCloud account data or demonstrating ways for iPhone apps to escape the security sandbox of iOS," reports 9to5Mac. "It appears the company is making an exception here given the embarrassingly public nature of the case, although further details about the reward have yet to be discussed." From the report: The FaceTime bug that made waves as result of 9to5Mac's coverage last week was actually first reported to Apple by Grant Thompson and his mother in Arizona a week earlier. However, deficiencies in the Apple bug reporting process meant that the report was not acted upon by the company. Instead, the teenager made headlines when his mother shared their Apple communications on Twitter. Their claims were later proved to be legitimate. Around January 22, Apple Support directed them to file a Radar bug report, which meant the mother had to first register a developer account as an ordinary customer. Even after following the indicated steps, it does not appear that Apple's product or engineering teams were aware of the problem until its viral explosion a week later. CNBC reports that an unnamed "high-level Apple executive" met with the Thompsons at their home in Tucson, Arizona on Friday. They apparently discussed how Apple could improve its bug reporting process and indicated that Grant would be eligible for the Apple bug bounty program.

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SpaceX Fires Mars-Bound Raptor Engine

Elon Musk took to Twitter Sunday evening to announce the "first firing of Starship Raptor flight engine." While SpaceX has fired individual components before and experimented with various designs, this is the first time the now-completed design has been assembled and fired in its intended spaceflight configuration. ExtremeTech reports: Raptor has gone through a number of design changes -- originally, SpaceX planned to mount it to the ITS launch vehicle back in 2016 (powered by 42 Raptor engines), before changing gears and unveiling its BFR rocket concept (officially known as "Super Heavy" for the first stage, and Starship for the second). The Super Heavy mounts 31 Raptor engines, while the Starship has seven. The engine has been designed with a priority on lowering overall wear and tear and removing failure points that could limit its reusability or increase long-term operating costs. Unlike SpaceX's Merlin engine, which runs on a mixture of RP-1 and LOX, the Raptor engine is fueled by cryogenic liquid methane and LOX. The Raptor uses subcooled methane (subcooling refers to keeping the temperature of the liquid well below its boiling point). Subcooling the methane allows SpaceX to increase the amount of propellant stored in the rocket. It increases specific impulse and reduces cavitation. The actual test burn only goes on for a few seconds, but yields tremendously valuable information about the actual performance of the rocket and its ability to ignite in a controlled fashion. The green glow in the exhaust near the end of the firing indicates the copper liner in the engine chamber burned by accident. While this should not have happened, it's precisely to find these pain points that engineers conduct test firings in the first place. There is no substitute for this kind of test-firing and, as Ars Technica notes, "any 'first' test firing of a new, full-scale rocket engine that doesn't end in an uncontrolled explosion is a good thing." Ars also states that this specific engine may be deployed for "hopper" flights this year when SpaceX attempts to fly the Starship roughly 5km high, then land it again.

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Rising Temperatures Could Melt Most Himalayan Glaciers By 2100

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Rising temperatures in the Himalayas, home to most of the world's tallest mountains, will melt at least one-third of the region's glaciers by the end of the century (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) even if the world's most ambitious climate change targets are met, according to a report released Monday. If those goals are not achieved, and global warming and greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100, according to the report, the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment. Under those more dire circumstances, the Himalayas could heat up by 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) by century's end, bringing radical disruptions to food and water supplies, and mass population displacement. Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region, which spans over 2,000 miles of Asia, provide water resources to around a quarter of the world's population. One of the most complete studies on mountain warming, the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment was put together over five years by 210 authors. The report includes input from more than 350 researchers and policymakers from 22 countries.

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Google Hired Microworkers To Train Its Controversial Project Maven AI

Google hired gig economy workers to help build out a controversial AI program that the company had paired with the Pentagon to build, according to a new report from The Intercept. "The workers were hired through a crowdsourcing gig company outfit called Figure Eight, which pays as little at $1 an hour for people to perform short, seemingly mindless tasks," reports The Verge. "Whether the individuals were identifying objects in CAPTCHA-like images, or other simple tasks, the workers were helping to train Google's AI that was created as part of a Defense Department initiative known as Project Maven." From the report: Project Maven is a Pentagon project intended to use machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to differentiate people and objects in thousands of hours of drone footage. By employing these crowdsourced microworkers, Google was able to use them to teach the algorithms it was running how to distinguish between human targets and surrounding objects. According to The Intercept, these workers had no idea who their work was benefitting or what they were building. Figure Eight, which was previously known as Crowdflower, is one of the largest platforms that employs microworkers. On its website, Figure Eight says its platform "combines human intelligence at scale with cutting-edge models to create the highest quality training data for your machine learning (ML) projects." By partnering with these microworker outfits, Google could quickly and cheaply build out its AI. "You upload your data to our platform and we provide the annotations, judgments, and labels you need to create accurate ground truth for your models," the website reads. Google decided against renewing its contract with the Defense Department last June after over 3,000 employees signed a petition in protest of the company's involvement in Project Maven. The deal is set to end in March 2019.

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Highest Court In Indiana Set To Decide If You Can Be Forced To Unlock Your Phone

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that police should not be allowed to force you to turn over your passcode or unlock your device. "The Fifth Amendment states that no one can be forced to be 'a witness against himself,' and we argue that the constitutional protection applies to forced decryption," writes the EFF. Last week, the non-profit digital rights group filed a brief making that case to the Indiana Supreme Court, which is set to decide if you can be forced to unlock your phone. From the report: The case began when Katelin Eunjoo Seo reported to law enforcement outside of Indianapolis that she had been the victim of a rape and allowed a detective to examine her iPhone for evidence. But the state never filed charges against Seo's alleged rapist, identified by the court as "D.S." (Courts often refer to minors using their initials.) Instead, the detective suspected that Seo was harassing D.S. with spoofed calls and texts, and she was ultimately arrested and charged with felony stalking. Along with a search warrant, the state sought a court order to force Seo to unlock her phone. Seo refused, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights. The trial court held her in contempt, but an intermediate appeals court reversed. When the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to get involved, it took the somewhat rare step of inviting amicus briefs. EFF got involved because, as we say in our brief filed along with the ACLU and the ACLU of Indiana, the issue in Seo is "no technicality; it is a fundamental protection of human dignity, agency, and integrity that the Framers enshrined in the Fifth Amendment." Our argument to the Indiana Supreme Court is that compelling Seo to enter her memorized passcode would be inherently testimonial because it reveals the contents of her mind. Obviously, if she were forced to verbally tell a prosecutor her password, it would be a testimonial communication. By extension, the act of forced unlocking is also testimonial. First, it would require a modern form of written testimony, the entry of the passcode itself. Second, it would rely on Seo's mental knowledge of the passcode and require her to implicitly acknowledge other information such as the fact that it was under her possession and control. The lower appellate court in Seo added an intriguing third reason: "In a very real sense, the files do not exist on the phone in any meaningful way until the passcode is entered and the files sought are decrypted. . . . Because compelling Seo to unlock her phone compels her to literally recreate the information the State is seeking, we consider this recreation of digital information to be more testimonial in nature than the mere production of paper documents." Because entering a passcode is testimonial, that should be the end of it, and no one should be ordered to decrypt their device, at least absent a grant of immunity that satisfies the Fifth Amendment. The case gets complicated when you factor in a case from 1976 called Fisher v. United States, where the Supreme Court recognized an exception to the Fifth Amendment privilege for testimonial acts of production. "State and federal prosecutors have invoked it in nearly every forced decryption case to date," writes the EFF. "In Seo, the State argued that all that compelling the defendant to unlock her phone would reveal is that she knows her own passcode, which would be a foregone conclusion once it 'has proven that the phone belongs to her.'" "As we argue in our amicus brief, this would be a dangerous rule for the Indiana Supreme Court to adopt. If all the government has to do to get you to unlock your phone is to show you know the password, it would have immense leverage to do so in any case where it encounters encryption."

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Tesla Acquires Ultracapacitor Manufacturer For Over $200 Million, Reaches Deal With Electrify America To Deploy Powerpacks At Over 100 Charging Stations

Thelasko shares a report from Electrek: Tesla hasn't been known for making many acquisitions, but we've now learned that it has reached an agreement to acquire ultracapacitor and battery component manufacturer Maxwell based in California. The all-stock transaction worth over $200 million was announced by Maxwell this morning and we reached out to Tesla to confirm the news. [...] Tesla's acquisition of Maxwell might have little to do with ultracapacitors. The automaker might be more interested with Maxwell's dry electrode technology that they have been hyping recently. Maxwell claims that its electrode enables an energy density of over 300 Wh/kg in current demonstration cells and they see a path to over 500 Wh/kg. This would represent a significant improvement over current battery cells used by Tesla and enable longer range or lighter weight, but that's not even the most attractive benefit of Maxwell's dry electrode. They claim that it should simplify the manufacturing process and result in a "10 to 20% cost reduction versus state-of-the-art wet electrodes" while "extending battery Life up to a factor of 2." Many companies have been making similar claims about batteries. Tesla, specifically Elon and JB, have often complained that they couldn't verify those claims. If Tesla is willing to pay $200 million for Maxwell, I have to assume that they verified the claims and they believe the technology is applicable to their batteries. On a semi-related note, Tesla has also reached a deal with Electrify America to deploy Powerpacks at over 100 charging stations operated by the latter. "Demand charges, a higher rate that an electric utility charges when a user's electricity needs spike, are resulting in incredible costs for charging station operators," reports Electrek. "The use of energy storage at charging stations in order to shave the peak usage is a solution to those demand charges." "[Electrify America] announced today that they will deploy Tesla Powerpack systems consisting of 'a 210 kW battery system with roughly 350 kWh of capacity' at over 100 charging stations," the report says. "The system will be designed to be modular in order to increase the capacity if needed."

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Deep Learning ‘Godfather’ Yoshua Bengio Worries About China’s Use of AI

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Yoshua Bengio, a Canadian computer scientist who helped pioneer the techniques underpinning much of the current excitement around artificial intelligence, is worried about China's use of AI for surveillance and political control. Bengio, who is also a co-founder of Montreal-based AI software company Element AI, said he was concerned about the technology he helped create being used for controlling people's behavior and influencing their minds. Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal, is considered one of the three "godfathers" of deep learning, along with Yann LeCun and Geoff Hinton. It's a technology that uses neural networks -- a kind of software loosely based on aspects of the human brain -- to make predictions based on data. It's responsible for recent advances in facial recognition, natural language processing, translation, and recommendation algorithms. "This is the 1984 Big Brother scenario," he said in an interview. "I think it's becoming more and more scary." "The use of your face to track you should be highly regulated," Bengio said. The amount of data large tech companies control is also a concern. He said the creation of data trusts -- non-profit entities or legal frameworks under which people own their data and allow it be used only for certain purposes -- might be one solution. If a trust held enough data, it could negotiate better terms with big tech companies that needed it, he said Thursday during a talk at Amnesty International U.K.'s office in London. Bengio said there were many ways deep learning software could be used for good. In Thursday's talk, he unveiled a project he's working on that uses AI to create augmented reality images depicting what people's individual homes or neighborhoods might look like as the result of natural disasters spawned by climate change. But he said there was also a risk that the implementation of AI would cause job losses on a scale, and at a speed, that's different from what's happened with other technological innovations. He said governments needed to be proactive in thinking about these risks, including considering new ways to redistribute wealth within society.

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Digital Exchange Loses $137 Million As Founder Takes Passwords To the Grave

A cryptocurrency exchange in Canada has lost control of at least $137 million of its customers' assets following the sudden death of its founder, who was the only person known to have access to the offline wallet that stored the digital coins. British Columbia-based QuadrigaCX is unable to access most or all of another $53 million because it's tied up in disputes with third parties. Ars Technica reports: The dramatic misstep was reported in a sworn affidavit that was obtained by CoinDesk. The affidavit was filed Thursday by Jennifer Robertson, widow of QuadrigaCX's sole director and officer Gerry Cotten. Robertson testified that Cotten died of Crohn's disease in India in December at the age of 30. Following standard security practices by many holders of cryptocurrency, QuadrigaCX stored the vast majority of its cryptocurrency holdings in a "cold wallet," meaning a digital wallet that wasn't connected to the Internet. The measure is designed to prevent hacks that regularly drain hot wallets of millions of dollars. Thursday's court filing, however, demonstrates that cold wallets are by no means a surefire way to secure digital coins. Robertson testified that Cotten stored the cold wallet on an encrypted laptop that only he could decrypt. Based on company records, she said the cold wallet stored $180 million in Canadian dollars ($137 million in US dollars), all of which is currently inaccessible to QuadrigaCX and more than 100,000 customers. "The laptop computer from which Gerry carried out the Companies' business is encrypted, and I do not know the password or recovery key," Robertson wrote. "Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere." The mismanaged cold wallet is only one of the problems besieging QuadrigaCX. Differences with at least three third-party partners has tied up most or all of an additional $53 million in assets. Making matters worse, many QuadrigaCX customers continued to make automatic transfers into the service following Cotten's death. On Monday, the site became inaccessible with little explanation, except for this status update, which was later taken down. On Thursday, QuadrigaCX said it would file for creditor protection as it worked to regain control of its assets. As of Thursday, the site had 115,000 customers with outstanding balances.

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Slack Says It’s Filed To Go Public

Slack, the cloud-based messaging platform, has confidentially filed with regulators to go public in the U.S. "[Slack], previously reported to be pursuing a direct listing of its stock, said in a statement Monday that it had submitted a confidential filing with the [SEC]," reports Bloomberg. "Slack is working with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Allen & Co. on the share sale." From the report: Slack plans to forgo a traditional initial public offering and instead intends to sell its shares to bidders in a direct listing, a person familiar with the matter said last month. While that would preclude the company from raising money by issuing new shares for sale, it would avoid some typical underwriting fees and allow current investors to sell shares without a lock-up period. The company is choosing the unusual method for going public because it doesn't need the cash or publicity of an IPO, the person said at the time. The share sale, which might take place toward mid-year, could value Slack at more than $7 billion, according to the person, who added that the San Francisco-based company's plans could still change.

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Nest Secure Has an Unlisted, Disabled Microphone

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Android Authority: Owners of the Nest Secure alarm system have been able to use voice commands to control their home security through Google Assistant for a while now. However, to issue those commands, they needed a separate Google Assistant-powered device, like a smartphone or a Google Home smart speaker. The reason for this limitation has always seemed straightforward: according to the official tech specs, there's no onboard microphone in the Nest Secure system. However, Google just informed us that it is right now rolling out Assistant functionality to all Nest Secure devices via a software update. That's right: if you currently own a Nest Secure, you will be able to use it as a Google Home very soon. That means somewhere in the Nest Guard -- the keypad base station of the Nest Secure -- there might be a microphone we didn't know existed. Either that or your voice commands are going to be heard by another product (like your phone, maybe) but Assistant's output will now come from the Nest Guard, if you happen to be in the range of that device. UPDATE: Google has issued a statement to Android Authority confirming the built-in microphone in the Nest Guard base system that's not listed on the official spec sheet at Nest's site. The microphone has been in an inactive state since the release of the Nest Secure, Google says. This unlisted mic is how the Nest Guard will be able to operate as a pseudo-Google Home with just a software update.

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Modern Weather Forecasts Are Stunningly Accurate

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Atlantic: Meteorologists have never gotten a shiny magazine cover or a brooding Aaron Sorkin film, and the weather-research hub of Norman, Oklahoma, is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Palo Alto. But over the past few decades, scientists have gotten significantly -- even staggeringly -- better at predicting the weather. How much better? "A modern five-day forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was in 1980," says a new paper, published last week in the journal Science. "Useful forecasts now reach nine to 10 days into the future." "Modern 72-hour predictions of hurricane tracks are more accurate than 24-hour forecasts were 40 years ago," the authors write. The federal government now predicts storm surge, stream level, and the likelihood of drought. It has also gotten better at talking about its forecasts: As I wrote in 2017, the National Weather Service has dropped professional jargon in favor of clear, direct, and everyday language. "Everybody's improving, and they're improving a lot," says Richard Alley, an author of the paper and a geoscientist at Penn State. Understanding months-long events like El Niño, for instance, has allowed meteorologists to go beyond the seven-day forecast. Alley, the Penn State professor, says that he is awed by the new models. Well-studied features of Earth's climate -- like the temperate Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean -- emerge in computer models, even though developers have written code that only mimics basic physics. We are now surrounded by the products of these miraculous models. In 2009, a back-of-the-envelope study estimated that U.S. adults check the weather forecast about 300 billion times per year. Perhaps in all that checking we have forgotten how strange the forecast is, how almost supernatural it is that people can describe the weather before it happens. More than 1,000 years ago, the Spanish archbishop Agobard of Lyon argued that no witch could control the weather because only God could understand it. "Man does not know the paths of the clouds, nor their perfect knowledges," he wrote. He cited the Book of Job for authority, which asks: "Dost thou know when God caused the light of his cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds ?"

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Speedy 3D Printer Uses Light Projected Into Resin To Create Solid Objects All In One Go, Rather Than In Layers

A research team from the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has created a printer -- nicknamed the "replicator" -- that shines light onto specific spots in a rotating resin that solidifies when exposed to a certain light level. What this does is forms the entire item all in one go, rather that forming items by laying down one layer of material at a time, like most 3D printers. MIT Technology Review reports: "We've carried out a range of prints taking from 30 seconds to a few minutes," says senior author Hayden Taylor. He reckons that printing the same objects in the traditional way could take more than an hour. While the machine competes on speed, it still cannot match the details and size that other printers can achieve. The biggest item it can print right now is just four inches (10 centimeters) in diameter. Other printers can make things measured in meters. The sophistication of the machine lies in the software that creates intricate light patterns to accurate solidify the material. The printer itself is fairly straightforward. It uses an off-the-shelf video projector plugged into a laptop that projects images of what you want to create, while a motor turns the cylinder of resin. Taylor thinks that because it's so relatively uncomplicated, both commercial and at-home versions of the printer are feasible. "The barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high," he says.

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China Is Restarting Its Reactor Pipeline, Westinghouse Isn’t Invited

"China hasn't launched a new nuclear reactor build for over two years, but Chinese press reports that this nuclear hiatus has broken," writes Slashdot reader carbonnation. "Approvals have reportedly been made for four Hualong One reactors -- a domestic "Generation III" design -- instead of U.S.-designed AP1000s." From a report via MIT Technology Review: China's Jiemian News started the chatter on Tuesday with an exclusive interview with senior leadership of the Hualong One design's owner, Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology, a collaboration of nuclear heavyweights China General Nuclear Power (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC). According to the news site, the joint venture's leaders said that two dual-reactor projects had received provisional permission to begin pouring concrete. Other publications also picked up the story yesterday, including First Financial Journal, which claimed to have confirmed the approvals through "relevant authoritative channels." CNNC and CGN have not responded to the media reports. The reactors are slated for two new sites along China's coast: CNNC's Zhangzhou power project in Fujian and CGN's Huizhou Taipingling project in Guangdong. Both projects had been planned and approved by Chinese authorities with Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor design, which promises safety advances such as passive cooling. That means it stores water above the reactor, leveraging gravity to keep the plant cool should the pumps fail. But Westinghouse's flagship AP1000 projects have been plagued by cost overruns and delays. Those troubles may have helped the Hualong One to catch up. CNNC started building the first Hualong One reactor in 2015 at its Fuqing power plant and expects to have it operating later this year.

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New US Experiments Aim To Create Gene-Edited Human Embryos

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases, NPR has learned. For now, the work is confined to a laboratory. But the research, if successful, would mark another step toward turning CRISPR, a powerful form of gene editing, into a tool for medical treatment. Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist at Columbia University, says he is conducting his experiments "for research purposes." He wants to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations. So far, Egli has stopped any modified embryos from developing beyond one day so he can study them. "Right now we are not trying to make babies. None of these cells will go into the womb of a person," he says. But if the approach is successful, Egli would likely allow edited embryos to develop further to continue his research. Egli's research is reviewed in advance and overseen by a panel of other scientists and bioethicists at Columbia. Specifically, Egli is trying to fix one of the genetic defects that cause retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited form of blindness. "If it works, the hope is that the approach could help blind people carrying the mutation have genetically related children whose vision is normal," reports NPR.

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Right To Repair Advocates Are Hosting YouTube Town Halls To Show You How To Get Involved In the Movement

iFixit, a company that advocates for the right for users to repair their own devices, is hosting live town halls on YouTube to help get new people involved in the movement. "We're going to do them every two weeks while the legislative season is in full swing," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told Motherboard in an email. Motherboard reports: The first town hall aired on Thursday, and featured prominent right to repair leaders like Repair.org's Gay Gordon-Byrne and US PIRG's Nathan Proctor. The broadcast covered topics such as the benefits of right to repair to consumers and the environment, and gave out information on how to talk to legislators about right to repair laws. Thanks to the right to repair movement's efforts, 15 states have introduced right to repair legislation in 2019 so far. Repair.org and iFixit's livestream gives people in those states information to help push their legislators to vote for bills protecting the people's right to repair. People living in states where legislation isn't yet being considered can learn all about how to kickstart their own local movements. Getting involved in the push for right to repair legislation is as simple as watching a recording of the first town hall broadcast. From there, you can then head over to Repair.org's advocacy page, where, you can navigate to a direct link for each state that will tell you where right to repair legislation stands in your community, who your legislators are, and how to get in contact with them. If folks across America agitate for change, we can enjoy a future where people can freely repair their own devices.

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Google Play Apps With Over 4.3 Million Downloads Stole Pics, Pushed Porn Ads

Google has banned dozens of Android apps downloaded millions of times from the official Play Store after researchers discovered they were being used to display phishing and scam ads or perform other malicious acts. Ars Technica reports: A blog post published by security firm Trend Micro listed 29 camera- or photo-related apps, with the top 11 of them fetching 100,000 to 1 million downloads each. One crop of apps caused browsers to display full-screen ads when users unlocked their devices. Clicking the pop-up ads in some cases caused a paid online pornography player to be downloaded, although it was incapable of playing content. The apps were carefully designed to conceal their malicious capabilities. The apps also hid their icons from the Android app list. That made it hard for users to uninstall the apps, since there was no icon to drag and delete. The apps also used compression archives known as packers to make it harder for researchers -- or presumably, tools Google might use to weed out malicious apps -- from analyzing the wares. Trend Micro researchers discovered another batch of apps that falsely promised to allow users to "beautify" their pictures by uploading them to a designated server. Instead of delivering an edited photo, however, the server provided a picture with a fake update prompt in nine different languages. The apps made it possible for the developers to collect the uploaded photos, possibly for use in fake profile pics or for other malicious purposes. The developers took pains to prevent users from detecting what was happening. "The remote server used by these apps is encoded with BASE64 twice in the code," Wu wrote. "In addition, several of these apps can also hide themselves via the same hidden technique mentioned above."

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Apple Removes Siri Team Lead As Part of AI Strategy Shift

The Apple executive who led the Siri team since 2012 has been removed as head of the project in a sweeping strategy shift favoring long-term research. Apple Insider reports: The Information reports Apple executive Bill Stasior is no longer in charge of Apple's virtual assistant team, though the executive is still employed at the company. Apple SVP of machine learning and AI strategy John Giannendrea reportedly made the decision in an attempt to shift the Siri program toward research rather than incremental updates. Giannandrea is anticipated to start a search for a new head of Siri, the report said. Hired by former Apple executive Scott Forstall to run point on Siri, Stasior was previously attached to Amazon's A9 search arm. Stasior's removal as head of Siri comes at a critical point in the voice-enabled assistant's timeline. The first AI assistant to see wide adoption thanks to its inclusion in 2011's iPhone 4S, Siri's capabilities have fallen behind competing systems marketed by Amazon and Google. Apple is looking to Giannandrea to rectify the situation. Hired early last year, Giannandrea previously worked on artificial intelligence projects at Google. In December, he was promoted to SVP and put in charge of Apple's AI and Machine Learning programs, including Core ML and Siri.

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One of the Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With the FBI

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: Family Tree DNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies whose home-testing kits enable people to trace their ancestry and locate relatives, is working with the FBI and allowing agents to search its vast genealogy database in an effort to solve violent crime cases, BuzzFeed News has learned. Federal and local law enforcement have used public genealogy databases for more than two years to solve cold cases, including the landmark capture of the suspected Golden State Killer, but the cooperation with Family Tree DNA and the FBI marks the first time a private firm has agreed to voluntarily allow law enforcement access to its database. While the FBI does not have the ability to freely browse genetic profiles in the library, the move is sure to raise privacy concerns about law enforcement gaining the ability to look for DNA matches, or more likely, relatives linked by uploaded user data. The Houston-based company, which touts itself as a pioneer in the genetic testing industry and the first to offer a direct-to-consumer test kit, disclosed its relationship with the FBI to BuzzFeed News on Thursday, saying in a statement that allowing access "would help law enforcement agencies solve violent crimes faster than ever." While Family Tree does not have a contract with the FBI, the firm has agreed to test DNA samples and upload the profiles to its database on a case-by-case basis since last fall, a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Its work with the FBI is "a very new development, which started with one case last year and morphed," she said. To date, the company has cooperated with the FBI on fewer than 10 cases. The Family Tree database is free to access and can be used by anyone with a DNA profile to upload, not just paying customers.

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NERC Fines Utilities $10 Million Citing Serious Cyber Risk, But Won’t Name Them

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) imposed its stiffest fine to date for violations of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) cybersecurity regulations. But who violated the standards and much of what the agency found remains secret. In a heavily redacted 250-page regulatory filing, NERC fined undisclosed companies belonging to a so-called "Regional Entity" $10 million for 127 violations of the Critical Infrastructure Protection standards, the U.S.'s main cyber security standard for critical infrastructure including the electric grid. Thirteen of the violations listed were rated as a "serious risk" to the operation of the Bulk Power System and 62 were rated a "moderate risk." Together, the "collective risk of the 127 violations posed a serious risk to the reliability of the (Bulk Power System)," NERC wrote. The fines come as the U.S. intelligence community is warning Congress of the growing risk of cyber attacks on the U.S. electric grid. In testimony this week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats specifically called out Russia's use of cyber attacks to cause social disruptions, citing that country's campaign against Ukraine's electric infrastructure in 2015 and 2016. The extensively redacted document provides no information on which companies were fined or where they are located, citing the risk of cyber attack should their identity be known. Regional Entities account for virtually all of the electricity supplied in the U.S. They are made up of investor-owned utilities; federal power agencies; rural electric cooperatives; state, municipal, and provincial utilities; independent power producers; power marketers; and end-use customers. However, details in the report provide some insight into the fines. For example, violations of a CIP statue that requires companies to "manage electronic access to (Bulk Electric System) Cyber Systems by specifying a controlled Electronic Security Perimeter" is rated a serious risk. So too are violations of CIP requirements calling for covered entities to "implement and document" access controls for "all electronic access points to the Electronic Security Perimeter(s)." Specific requirements that were violated suggest that the companies failed to implement access controls that "denies access by default," "enable only ports and services required for operations and for monitoring Cyber Assets within the Electronic Security Perimeter," and ensure the authenticity of parties attempting to remotely access the company's "electronic security perimeter."

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Foxconn Says It Will Build Wisconsin Factory After All

Citing a phone conversation with President Trump, Foxconn said it will proceed with plans to build a government-subsidized plant in Wisconsin to make liquid crystal display screens. The news capped a week of reversals about the Taiwanese company's plans in the state. CBS News reports: Foxconn drew headlines in 2017 when it said the company would invest $10 billion in Wisconsin and hire 13,000 people to build a factory to make screens for televisions and other devices. State leaders offered nearly $4 billion in tax incentives to help seal the deal. Last year Foxconn said it would reduce the scale of the factory from what is known as a "Gen 10" factory to "Gen 6". But this week, Foxconn executive Louis Woo seemed to move away from a factory altogether, saying the company couldn't compete in the TV screen market and would not be making LCD panels in Wisconsin. On Friday, in yet another twist, Foxconn said that, after discussions with the White House and a personal conversation between Mr. Trump and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, it will proceed with the smaller manufacturing facility. Woo told Reuters earlier this week that about three-quarters of workers in Wisconsin would be in research and development, not manufacturing, and that the facility would be more of a research hub. Foxconn, the world's largest electronics company, said Friday the campus would house both an advanced manufacturing facility and a center of "technology innovation for the region."

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Plants and Animals Sometimes Take Genes From Bacteria, Study Suggests

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Many genome studies have shown that prokaryotes—bacteria and archaea -- liberally swap genes among species, which influences their evolution. The initial sequencing of the human genome suggested our species, too, has picked up microbial genes. But further work demonstrated that such genes found in vertebrate genomes were often contaminants introduced during sequencing. [...] Debashish Bhattacharya, an evolutionary genomicist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and UD plant biochemist Andreas Weber took a closer look at a possible case of bacteria-to-eukaryote gene transfer that [William Martin, a biologist that concluded that there is no significant ongoing transfer of prokaryotic genes into eukaryotes, has challenged in 2015]. The initial sequencing of genomes from two species of red algae called Cyanidiophyceae had indicated that up to 6% of their DNA had a prokaryotic origin. These so-called extremophiles, which live in acidic hot springs and even inside rock, can't afford to maintain superfluous DNA. They appear to contain only genes needed for survival. "When we find a bacterial gene, we know it has an important function or it wouldn't last" in the genome, Bhattacharya says. He and Weber turned to a newer technology that deciphers long pieces of DNA. The 13 red algal genomes they studied contain 96 foreign genes, nearly all of them sandwiched between typical algal genes in the DNA sequenced, which makes it unlikely they were accidentally introduced in the lab. "At the very least, this argument that [putative transferred genes are] all contamination should finally be obsolete," says Gerald Schoenknecht, a plant physiologist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. The transferred genes seem to transport or detoxify heavy metals, or they help the algae extract nourishment from the environment or cope with high temperature and other stressful conditions. "By acquiring genes from extremophile prokaryotes, these red algae have adapted to more and more extreme environments," Schoenknecht says. While Martin says the new evidence doesn't persuade him, several insect researchers say they see evidence of such gene transfer. "Iâ(TM)ve moved beyond asking 'if [the bacterial genes] are there,' to how they work," says John McCutcheon, a biologist at Montana State University in Missoula who studies mealy bugs. The red algae, he adds, "is a very clear case."

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Nintendo Reportedly Plans Smaller and Cheaper Switch For This Year

According to a report from Nikkei, Nintendo is developing a smaller and cheaper version of the Switch focused on portability, and without some of the features in the original console. "A rumor in October suggested Nintendo was developing a new Switch, but instead of improving on the existing model, it's just as likely the company is looking for ways to streamline the system," notes Engadget. From the report: As Ars Technica speculates, the console's plastic dock could be the first thing to go. It's available separately for $90, and there are also cheaper ways to get your Switch to output to a TV (it's relying on a USB-C connection, after all). Nintendo could conceivably move towards a smaller and cheaper screen, and potentially even make the controller a physical part of the console, instead of the removable Joy-Cons. It also wouldn't be out of character for Nintendo to break existing functionality with a console revamp -- the 2DS was a cheaper spin on the 3DS that was still very playable without 3D.

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University of Columbia Researchers Translate Brain Signals Directly Into Speech

dryriver writes: There is good news for people who have limited or no ability to speak, due to having suffered a stroke for example. Researchers at Columbia University have managed to turn brain signals in the auditory cortex of test subjects into somewhat intelligible speech using a vocoder-like system with audio output cleaned up by neural networks. The findings have been published in the journal Nature. Here's an excerpt from the Zuckerman Institute's press release, which contains example audio of a number sequence being turned into robotic speech: "In a scientific first, Columbia neuroengineers have created a system that translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech. By monitoring someone's brain activity, the technology can reconstruct the words a person hears with unprecedented clarity. This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain. It also lays the groundwork for helping people who cannot speak, such as those living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or recovering from stroke, regain their ability to communicate with the outside world."

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Scientists Create Super-Thin ‘Sheet’ That Could Charge Our Phones

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created super-thin, bendy materials that absorb wireless internet and other electromagnetic waves in the air and turn them into electricity. The lead researcher, Tomas Palacios, said the breakthrough paved the way for energy-harvesting covers ranging from tablecloths to giant wrappers for buildings that extract energy from the environment to power sensors and other electronics. Details have been published in the journal Nature. Palacios and his colleagues connected a bendy antenna to a flexible semiconductor layer only three atoms thick. The antenna picks up wifi and other radio-frequency signals and turns them into an alternating current. This flows into the molybdenum disulphide semiconductor, where it is converted into a direct electrical current. [M]olybdenum disulphide film can be produced in sheets on industrial roll-to-roll machines, meaning they can be made large enough to capture useful amounts of energy. Ambient wifi signals can fill an office with more than 100 microwatts of power that is ripe to be scavenged by energy-harvesting devices. The MIT system has an efficiency of between 30% and 40%, producing about 40 microwatts when exposed to signals bearing 150 microwatts of power in laboratory tests. "It doesn't sound like much compared with the 60 watts that a computer needs, but you can still do a lot with it," Palacios said. "You can design a wide range of sensors, for environmental monitoring or chemical and biological sensing, which operate at the single microwatt level. Or you could store the electricity in a battery to use later."

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Giving the Humble Stethoscope an AI Upgrade Could Save Millions of Kids

the_newsbeagle writes: The stethoscope is a ubiquitous medical tool that has barely changed since it was invented in the early 1800s. But now a team of engineers, doctors, and public health researchers have come together to reinvent the tool using adaptive acoustics and AI. Their motivation is this statistic: Every year, nearly 1 million kids die of pneumonia around the world, with most deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The death toll is highest among children under the age of 5. The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University, designed a smart stethoscope for use by unskilled workers in noisy medical clinics. It uses a dynamic audio filtering system to remove ambient noise and distracting body sounds while not interfering with the subtle sounds from the lungs. And it uses AI to analyze the cleaned-up signal and provide a diagnosis.

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Second China-Bound Apple Car Worker Charged With Data Theft

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: An Apple hardware engineer was charged by the U.S. with stealing the iPhone maker's driverless car secrets for a China-based company, the second such case since July amid an unprecedented crackdown by the Trump administration on Chinese corporate espionage. Jizhong Chen was seen by a fellow Apple employee taking photographs Jan. 11 with a wide-angle lens inside a secure work space that houses the company's autonomous car project, about six months after he signed a strict confidentiality oath when he was hired, according to a criminal complaint in federal court in San Jose, California. Prosecutors said Chen admitted to taking the photos and backing up some 2,000 files to his personal hard drive, including manuals and schematics for the project, but didn't tell Apple he had applied for a job with a China-based autonomous vehicle company.

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Tesla Reports Second-Consecutive Profit; CFO Retires Again

Rei writes: Yesterday, Tesla reported their 4th quarter earnings, representing their second consecutive profit. While earnings per share missed analyst expectations ($1.93 vs. $2.20), revenue beat expectations by around $100 million and free cash flow ($910 million) was more than double the First Call consensus of $395 million. Model 3 margins were maintained at an impressive 20% level despite significant reductions in the average sale price in Q4; labor hours fell by 20% in Q4 and 65% in the second half of 2018 alone. With $3.7 billion in the bank, Tesla is now well positioned to repay its $920 million March convertible bond obligations in cash. Severance costs and an increase in inventory in transit due to shipments to Europe and China are expected to hurt Tesla's profits in Q1, but guidance for Q2 onward in 2019 is strong. Highlights planned for 2019 include introduction of faster V3 Supercharging early in the year, Model Y and pickup unveiling in the middle of the year, base Model 3 unveiling in the middle of the year, and full-vehicle production in the under-construction Shanghai Gigafactory by the end of the year -- the first wholly foreign-owned auto plant in China, which has seen extensive governmental support. Despite a generally positive earnings report and conference call, the atmosphere was soured by the news that Tesla's 11-year Tesla veteran CFO Deepak Ahuja was re-retiring. Having previously retired in 2015, Deepak returned to Tesla in 2017 to replace outgoing CFO Jason Wheeler. Ahuja will remain with the company for several months as CFO and then become a senior advisor, while his protege Zach Kirkhorn fills his role. The market reacted negatively to the news, with Tesla trading down 4.5% premarket.

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Windows Setup Error Messages Will Soon Actually Help Fix Problems

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The next major Windows release, the Windows 10 April 2019 Update (codenamed 19H1), is going to offer some significant improvements [to error messages]. Microsoft described them on its Windows Insider webcast, and they were spotted initially by WinFuture. Currently, the best case during installation is something like this screen. The message says that an incompatible application is detected, and a Knowledge Base article is referenced. It turns out that most Windows users don't know what "KBxxxxxxx" actually means, and the article isn't hyperlinked to make accessing it any easier. Issues detected through the other setup experience aren't much better. Windows will offer to uninstall problem applications, but often the better solution is to upgrade the application in question. The new setup process aims to be both more informative and more useful. The general approach is to allow decisions to be made within the setup program where possible and to put meaningful descriptions in the error messages, rather than leaving people with just a KB number to go on. Further, the "learn more" links will take you directly to the relevant Knowledge Base article, rather than hoping that end users know what "KBxxxxxxxx" means. Third-party developers will also be able to provide information about upgrades and updates when applicable to resolving compatibility issues.

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H-1B Visa Lottery Will Now Favor Masters, Doctorate Degree Holders

McGruber shares a report from The San Francisco Chronicle: The Department of Homeland Security announced a rule change Wednesday that will transform the lottery that decides who gets the 85,000 H-1B visas granted to for-profit companies every year. Previously, an initial lottery granted 20,000 visas only to those holding advanced degrees granted by U.S. institutions -- master's degrees or doctorates -- and then a general lottery granted 65,000 visas to all qualified applicants. The Department of Homeland Security switched the order of these lotteries, it said in a notice of the final rule change, which will bolster the odds for highly educated foreign nationals. The change reduces the likelihood that people with just a bachelor's degree will win in the general lottery, said Lisa Spiegel, an attorney at Duane Morris in San Francisco and head of the firm's immigration group. The program shift could hurt technology staffing companies, also known as outsourcers, who have a reputation for flooding the lottery with applications. Three Indian firms -- Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro -- often account for a majority of the H-1B applications, an analysis of government data shows.

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Hacker Spoke To Baby and Hurled Obscenities At Couple Using Nest Camera, Dad Says

pgmrdlm shares a report from CBS News: An Illinois couple said a hacker spoke to their baby through one of their Nest security cameras and then later hurled obscenities at them, CBS station WBBM-TV reports. Arjun Sud told the station he was outside his 7-month-old son's room Sunday outside Chicago and he heard someone talking. "I was shocked to hear a deep, manly voice talking," Sud said. "My blood ran cold." Sud told WBBM-TV he thought the voice was coming over the baby monitor by accident. But it returned when he and his wife were downstairs. The voice was coming from another of the many Nest cameras throughout the couple's Lake Barrington house. "Asking me, you know, why I'm looking at him -- because he saw obviously that I was looking back -- and continuing to taunt me," Sud said. Later that night, Arjun Sud noticed the Nest thermostat they have upstairs had been raised to 90 degrees. He suspected the hacker was behind that too. Nest's parent company, Google, said in a statement that Nest's system was not breached. Google said the recent incidents stem from customers "using compromised passwords exposed through breaches on other websites."

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Fake News Sites Are Changing Their Domain Name To Get Around Facebook Fact-Checkers

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mashable: In order to avoid Facebook's fact checking system, the site formerly known as YourNewsWire, one of the most well-known purveyors of fake news online, has simply rebranded. The site now goes by News Punch and posts fake news content similar to what it published under their former name, according to a report by Poynter. YourNewsWire co-founders Sinclair Treadway and Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who reside in California, founded the site in 2014. The two completely migrated the website from the "yournewswire.com" domain name to "newspunch.com" in November 2018. Treadway told Bloomberg at the time that they move was made due to declining revenue thanks to Facebook's fact-checking system. Under this program, fact-checking outlets like Snopes are able to mark content posted on Facebook as false, which in turn decreases the site's reach on Facebook. According to the investigation, the workaround has been a success. Content that Poynter itself had found to be previously marked false on "yournewswire.com" was ported over to the "newspunch.com" domain. When shared on Facebook, that same fake news content that now lived on "newspunch.com" was not marked as false under the fact-checking program. Facebook is reportedly rolling out features to thwart the site's workaround.

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India’s Largest Bank SBI Leaked Account Data On Millions of Customers

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: India's largest bank has secured an unprotected server that allowed anyone to access financial information on millions of its customers, like bank balances and recent transactions. The server, hosted in a regional Mumbai-based data center, stored two months of data from SBI Quick, a text message and call-based system used to request basic information about their bank accounts by customers of the government-owned State Bank of India (SBI), the largest bank in the country and a highly ranked company in the Fortune 500. But the bank had not protected the server with a password, allowing anyone who knew where to look to access the data on millions of customers' information. The passwordless database allowed us to see all of the text messages going to customers in real time, including their phone numbers, bank balances and recent transactions. The database also contained the customer's partial bank account number. Some would say when a check had been cashed, and many of the bank's sent messages included a link to download SBI's YONO app for internet banking. The bank sent out close to three million text messages on Monday alone. The database also had daily archives of millions of text messages each, going back to December, allowing anyone with access a detailed view into millions of customers' finances. SBI claims more than 500 million customers across the globe with 740 million accounts.

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Lawyer Sues Apple Over FaceTime Eavesdrop Bug, Says It Let Someone Record a Sworn Testimony

A lawyer in Houston has filed a lawsuit against Apple over a security vulnerability that let people eavesdrop on iPhones using FaceTime. "His lawsuit, filed Monday in Harris County, Texas, alleges that Apple 'failed to exercise reasonable care' and that Apple 'knew, or should have known, that its Product would cause unsolicited privacy breaches and eavesdropping,'" reports CNBC. "It alleged Apple did not adequately test its software and that Apple was 'aware there was a high probability at least some consumers would suffer harm.'" From the report: The suit says that Williams was "undergoing a private deposition with a client when this defective product breached allowed for the recording" of the conversation. Williams claimed this caused "sustained permanent and continuous injuries, pain and suffering and emotional trauma that will continue into the future" and that Williams "lost ability to earn a living and will continued to be so in the future." The lawsuit also says that iOS 12.1, the latest major release of the iPhone operating system, was defective and "unreasonable dangerous" and that Apple "failed to provide adequate warnings to avoid the substantial danger" posed by the security flaw. Williams is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as a result of the exploit.

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Facebook Shares Shoot Up After Strong Q4 Earnings Despite Scandals

Despite Facebook's recent scandals, such as the site's biggest data breach, the social media company managed to beat Wall Street's estimates in its Q4 earnings. "Facebook hit 2.32 billion monthly users, up 2.2 percent from 2.27 billion last quarter, speeding up its growth rate," reports TechCrunch. "Facebook climbed to 1.52 billion daily active users from 1.49 billion last quarter for a 2 percent growth rate that dwarfed last quarter's 1.36 percent." From the report: Facebook earned $16.91 billion off all those users with a $2.38 GAAP earnings per share. Those numbers handily beat Wall Street's expectations of $16.39 billion in revenue and $2.18 GAAP earnings per share, plus 2.32 billion monthly and 1.51 billion daily active users. Facebook's daily to monthly user ratio, or stickiness, held firm at 66 percent where it's stayed for years, showing those still on Facebook aren't using it much less. Facebook shares had closed today at $150.42 but shot up over 9 percent following the record revenue and profit announcements to hover around $162. A big 30 percent year-over-year boost in average revenue per user in North America fueled those gains. Yet that's still way down from $186 where it was a year ago and a peak of $217 in July. Facebook's monthly active user plateaued in North America but roared up in Europe. That was shored up by a reversal of last quarter's decline in Rest Of World average revenue per user, which fell 4.7% in Q3 but bounced back with 16.5 percent growth in Q4. Facebook raked in $6.8 billion in profit this quarter as it slowed down hiring and only grew headcount 5 percent from 33,606 to 35,587. It seems Facebook has gotten to a comfortable place with its security staff-up in the wake of election interference, fake news, and content moderation troubles. Its revenue is up 30 percent year-over-year while profits grew 61 percent, which is pretty remarkable for a 15-year old technology company.

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Foxconn Is Reconsidering Plan For Wisconsin Factory

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Foxconn, the giant Taiwan-based company that announced plans for a $10 billion display-making factory in Wisconsin, now says it is rethinking the project's focus because of "new realities" in the global marketplace (Warning source may be paywalled; alternative source). The company said Wednesday that it remained committed to creating as many as 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, and continued to "actively consider opportunities" involving flat-screen technology. But it said it was also "examining ways for Wisconsin's knowledge workers to promote research and development." "The global market environment that existed when the project was first announced has changed," Foxconn said in a statement. "As our plans are driven by those of our customers, this has necessitated the adjustment of plans for all projects, including Wisconsin." But the company said its presence in Wisconsin remained a priority, and said it was "broadening the base of our investment" there. The statement followed a Reuters report quoting Louis Woo, a special assistant to Foxconn's chairman, Terry Gou, as saying that the costs of manufacturing screens for televisions and other consumer products are too high in the United States. "In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.," Mr. Woo told Reuters. "We can't compete." Some Wisconsin Republicans blamed the company's change in plans on the election of Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, to succeed Mr. Walker, a Republican, in November. In a joint statement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, said it was "not surprising Foxconn would rethink building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin under the Evers administration." The lawmakers added: "The company is reacting to the wave of economic uncertainty that the new governor has brought with his administration."

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Ask Slashdot: Could An AI Conceivably Create Futureproof Product Designs?

dryriver writes: Whether you are into consumer electronics, cars, furniture or other manufactured things, one aspect of them doesn't change -- the physical design or "look" of the product tends to age badly in our perception as newer products are released. When you first buy the product it looks "sexy and new"; 5 years down the road, it just looks kind of "old" or "less sophisticated" compared to the newer, sleeker products. To the question: Could you get an artificial intelligence powered by a neural network to train on hundreds of product designs created over the last 20 years -- possibly by laser-scanning products in 3D or providing 3D CAD files -- and learn with great sophistication how product design or "product looks" evolve as time passes? Could that AI then be coaxed into making fairly educated guesses about how a particular product might look if it were designed in the future, in say 2030? In other words, could a suitably trained AI give a laptop, car, or designer chair to be manufactured in 2020 the "design look of the 2030s" ten years early by extrapolating forward from the training dataset of past product designs?

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Attackers Can Track Kids’ Locations Via Connected Watches

secwatcher shares a report from Threatpost: A gamut of kids' GPS-tracking watches are exposing sensitive data involving 35,000 children -- including their location, in real time. Researchers from Pen Test Partners specifically took a look at the Gator portfolio of watches from TechSixtyFour. The Gator line had been in the spotlight in 2017 for having a raft of vulnerabilities, called out by the Norwegian Consumers Council in its WatchOut research. "A year on, we decided to have a look at the Gator watch again to see how their security had improved," said Vangelis Stykas, in a Tuesday posting. "Guess what: a train wreck. Anyone could access the entire database, including real-time child location, name, parents' details etc. Not just Gator watches either -- the same back end covered multiple brands and tens of thousands of watches." "At issue was an easy-to-exploit, severe privilege-escalation vulnerability: The system failed to validate that the user had the appropriate permission to take admin control," reports Threatpost. "An attacker with access to the watch's credentials simply needed to change the user level parameter in the backend to an admin designation, which would provide access to all account information and all watch information."

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Samsung Develops the First 1TB Storage Chips For Phones

Samsung has started mass producing what it says is the industry's first one terabyte embedded Universal Flash Storage (eUFS) technology for smartphones. "It will give the company's mobile devices PC-like storage without the need for large-capacity microSD cards," Engadget reports. "It'll be incredibly useful if you use your phone to take tons of photos and HD videos -- Samsung says it's enough to store 260 10-minute videos in 4K UHD." From the report: "The 1TB eUFS is expected to play a critical role in bringing a more notebook-like user experience to the next generation of mobile devices," said Cheol Choi, EVP of Memory Sales & Marketing at Samsung Electronics. As ZDNet notes, Samsung's upcoming flagship devices, such as the S10, will most likely come with a 1TB option thanks to its new eUFS technology. After all, Samsung started mass producing its 512GB storage technology back in December 2017 and then debuted it with its new phones early on in the following year. In addition to offering massive storage, the new eUFS was also designed to be faster than typical SSDs, microSDs and previous revisions of the technology. It has a 1,000-megabyte-per-second sequential read speed, twice that of the usual SSD and faster than its 512GB predecessor. Despite all those, Samsung says it'll come in the same package size as its 512GB flash memory, so it won't have to make its big phones even bigger.

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E-Cigarettes Are Effective At Helping Smokers Quit, a Study Says

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that e-cigarettes were nearly twice as effective as conventional nicotine replacement products, like patches and gum, for quitting smoking. The success rate was still low -- 18 percent among the e-cigarette group, compared to 9.9 percent among those using traditional nicotine replacement therapy -- but many researchers who study tobacco and nicotine said it gave them the clear evidence they had been looking for. The study was conducted in Britain and funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Cancer Research UK. For a year, it followed 886 smokers assigned randomly to use either e-cigarettes or traditional nicotine replacement therapies. Both groups also participated in at least four weekly counseling sessions, an element regarded as critical for success. The findings could give some new legitimacy to e-cigarette companies like Juul, which have been under fire from the government and the public for contributing to what the Food and Drug Administration has called an epidemic of vaping among teenagers. But they could also exacerbate the difficulty of keeping the devices away from young people who have never smoked while making them available for clinical use.

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Netflix, Amazon, and Hollywood Studios Shut Down Dragon Box

The entertainment industry has shut down Dragon Media Inc.'s "Dragon Box" device, which connects to TVs and lets users watch video without a cable TV or streaming service subscription. According to Ars Technica, the company has "agreed to shut down the Dragon Box services and pay $14.5 million in damages to plaintiffs from the entertainment industry." From the report: Dragon Media was sued in January 2018 by Netflix, Amazon, Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. Dragon Media's lawyer initially predicted that the lawsuit would backfire on the entertainment industry, but the Dragon Box maker must have decided it had little chance of winning at trial. The plaintiffs and defendant filed a proposed settlement Monday at U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The settlement requires Dragon Media to "cease all operation of the Dragon Box system" and related services within five days. Under the settlement, "[j]udgment shall be entered against Defendants and in favor of Plaintiffs on Plaintiffs' claims of copyright infringement, and damages shall be awarded to Plaintiffs in the amount of U.S. $14,500,000," the document says. Dragon Media, Dragon Media owner Paul Christoforo, and reseller Jeff Williams "[s]hall be further enjoined from operating any website, system, software, or service that is substantially similar to the Dragon Box service," the settlement says. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from making its source code or other technology available to others.

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Google+ Reveals Shutdown Timeline For Consumers

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Android Police: Google announced its plans to sunset its Google+ social media network for consumers on a sour note in October. The platform, which has a small but dedicated user-base, decided to shut down following Google's acknowledgement of a data exposure that affected up to 500,000 Google+ profiles. Shortly after, in December, the shutdown timeline was expedited due to another, larger bug that had the potential to reveal private user information and impacted approximately 52.5 million users. Now, the company has detailed its shutdown timeline for the consumer version of Google+ -- and it's not wasting any time. The shutdown timeline is as follows: - As early as February 4th, you will no longer be able to create new Google+ profiles, pages, communities, or events. - The Google+ feature for website comments will be removed by Blogger by February 4th and other sites by March 7th. All Google+ comments on all sites will be deleted starting April 2nd. - Google+ sign-in buttons will stop working in the coming weeks, but in some cases will be replaced by a Google sign-in button. - Google+ Community owners and moderators who are downloading data from their Community will gain additional data for download starting early March 2019. That includes author, body, and photos for every community post in a public community. -On April 2nd, all Google+ accounts and pages will be shut down and Google will begin deleting content from consumer Google+ accounts. Photos and videos from Google+ in users' Album Archive and Google+ pages will also be deleted. Photos and videos backed up in Google Photos will not be deleted.

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YouTube Strikes Now Being Used As Scammers’ Extortion Tool

Scammers are reportedly using YouTube's "three strike" system for extortion. "After filing two false claims against [YouTuber ObbyRaidz], scammers contacted him demanding cash to avoid a third -- and the termination of his channel," reports TorrentFreak. From the report: The YouTuber, who concentrates on Minecraft-related videos, reports that he's received two bogus strikes on his account. While this is nothing new, it appears the strikes were deliberately malicious with longer-term plan to extort money from him. "I have been striked twice and basically extorted," ObbyRaidz revealed this morning. "If I don't pay this dude he's going to strike a third one of my videos down." The alleged scammer contacted ObbyRaidz, who lives in Texas, via Twitter. He or she warned the YouTuber that unless he paid a sum via PayPal or bitcoin, another complaint and therefore a third strike would be added to his account. "Hi Obby, We striked you," the message from "VengefulFlame" begins. "Our request is $150 PayPal or $75 btc (Bitcoin). You may send the money via goods/services if you do not think we will cancel or hold up our end of the deal. "Once we receive our payment, we will cancel both strikes on your channel. Again -- you are free to charge back if we don't but we assure you we will." The YouTuber was then granted "a very short amount of time" to make his decision whether to pay the amount or potentially lose his channel. The YouTuber goes on to say that YouTube has not provided any assistance resolving this problem. "It's very unfortunate and YouTube has not done very much for me. I can't get in contact with them. One of the appeals got denied," he explains.

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Hanford Nuclear Waste Cleanup Makes Progress, But Questions Loom

The Hanford Vit Plant in Washington state, a $17 billion federal facility for treating and immobilizing radioactive waste, is now on track to begin "glassifying" low-activity nuclear waste as soon as 2022, reports IEEE Spectrum. This is "a year ahead of a court-mandated deadline." From the report: Still, an air of uncertainty surrounds the project. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed reclassifying some of the nation's radioactive waste as less dangerous, and it's unclear how that could affect the Hanford facility's long-term prospects. Hanford houses about 212 million liters of high-level waste, the leftovers of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. However, higher-level waste has a longer timeline. Separate pretreatment and vitrification facilities aren't slated for commissioning until 2033. All parts of the Vit Plant are legally required to begin fully operating by 2036, under a consent decree between Washington, Oregon, and the federal government. The DOE hasn't said whether, or how, its proposal to reclassify nuclear waste would affect existing plans at Hanford if adopted. The agency is not making any decisions on the classification or disposal of any particular waste stream at this time, a DOE official said by email. [...] Though current law defines high-level radioactive waste as the sludge that results from processing highly radioactive nuclear fuel, the DOE is considering slapping a new, potentially less expensive label on it if it can meet the radioactive concentration limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste. Reclassifying nuclear waste would allow the federal government to sidestep decades of cleanup work, saving it billions of dollars. The relabeling might even enable the DOE to bypass costly vitrification and instead contain tank waste by covering it with concrete-like grout, as the agency does at other decommissioned nuclear sites. Officials and citizens in Washington and Oregon oppose this method for Hanford, "citing the risk of long-term soil and groundwater contamination and the challenges of moving and storing voluminous grout blocks," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Earlier federal studies found that grout 'actually performed the worst of all the supplemental treatment options considered.' (A 2017 report to Congress, however, suggested both vitrification and grout could effectively treat Hanford's low-activity waste.)"

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Meet the Man Behind a Third of What’s On Wikipedia

Thelasko shares a report from CBS News: Steven Pruitt has made nearly 3 million edits on Wikipedia and written 35,000 original articles. It's earned him not only accolades but almost legendary status on the internet. The online encyclopedia now boasts more than 5.7 million articles in English and millions more translated into other languages -- all written by online volunteers. Pruitt was named one of the most influential people on the internet by Time magazine in part because one-third of all English language articles on Wikipedia have been edited by Steven. An incredible feat, ignited by a fascination with his own history. How much money does he make from his work? None. "The idea of making it all free fascinates me. My mother grew up in the Soviet Union ... So I'm very conscious of what, what it can mean to make knowledge free, to make information free," he said. Pulling from books, academic journals and other sources, he spends more than three hours a day researching, editing and writing. Even his day job is research, working in records and information at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He joked that his colleagues probably think he's nuts. To put in to perspective what it took for Pruitt to become the top editor, he's been dedicating his free time to the site for 13 years. The second-place editor is roughly 900,000 edits behind him, so his first place status seems safe, for now.

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NASA Is Back To Work, But the Effects of the Government Shutdown Linger

Following a record 35-day government shutdown, thousands of civil servants and contractors are heading back to work this week at NASA's various centers throughout the country. "These first few days back on the job will be consumed with practical matters, such as figuring out employee backpay and how to dive back into projects," reports The Verge. "The shutdown will undoubtedly result in delays for some of NASA's long-term programs, too, but it'll be a while before the space agency can fully assess the extent of the damage." From the report: To explain how NASA is adjusting in the wake of the shutdown, the space agency's administrator Jim Bridenstine addressed employees during a town hall meeting this afternoon at NASA's headquarters in Washington, DC. "Welcome to 2019," he said during the meeting, which was live-streamed on NASATV. "NASA is now open and we're very thankful for that." The comment was met by applause from those in attendance, while Bridenstine went on to acknowledge that it's been a rough start to the year for the agency. "I want to say thank you for your patience and for your commitment to this agency and to the mission we all believe in so dearly." Bridenstine told the room that some NASA employees did leave during the shutdown, though it wasn't a substantial amount. "We didn't have a mass exodus," he said. "I think had this gone on longer, we would have. But we did lose people -- onesies and twosies -- across the agency and even here at headquarters. That is absolutely true." Perhaps those hit hardest at NASA were the agency's contractors. [...] Each company funded by NASA has its own contract with the agency, and the provisions of those agreements differ from contract to contract. Some contractors were paid their funding in advance of the shutdown, allowing them to continue working mostly unfazed. However, the employees of contractors who did not receive funding in advance were unable to bill for the hours that they worked during the shutdown. And it's possible they'll never receive compensation for that time. "NASA is in the middle of selecting new planetary missions to pursue, as part of its New Frontiers and Discovery programs -- and the shutdown may have delayed that process, says Casey Dreier, chief advocate and senior space policy adviser at The Planetary Society," reports The Verge. "Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, pushed back the date for when the agency would accept applications for new science research proposals. And there's uncertainty surrounding the new giant rocket NASA is working on to take astronauts to the Moon and beyond, called the Space Launch System." Boeing told Politico that the shutdown delayed testing of the rocket's hardware.

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Study Shows How LSD Interferes With Brain’s Signaling

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A group of volunteers who took a trip in the name of science have helped researchers uncover how LSD messes with activity in the brain to induce an altered state of consciousness. Brain scans of individuals high on the drug revealed that the chemical allows parts of the cortex to become flooded with signals that are normally filtered out to prevent information overload. The drug allowed more information to flow from the thalamus, a kind of neural gatekeeper, to a region called the posterior cingulate cortex, and it stemmed the flow of information to another part known as the temporal cortex. This disruption in communication may underpin some of the wacky effects reported by LSD users, from feelings of bliss and being at one with the universe to hallucinations and what scientists in the field refer to as "ego dissolution," where one's sense of self disintegrates. For the study, the researchers invited 25 healthy participants into the lab to be scanned under the influence of LSD and, on another occasion, after taking a placebo. They were shown around the scanner beforehand to ensure they felt comfortable going inside when the drug took hold. Had the machine suddenly taken on a threatening demeanor, the scans might not have come out so well. The scientists wanted to test a hypothesis first put forward more than a decade ago. It states LSD causes the thalamus to stop filtering information it relays to other parts of the brain. It is the breakdown of this filter that gives rise to the weird effects the drug induces, or so the thinking goes. Scans of the volunteers' brains suggested there may be some truth to the hypothesis. On LSD, the thalamus let more information through to some parts of the brain and suppressed information bound for others. "What we found is that the model is mostly true, but how information is distributed to the cortex under LSD is much more specific than it predicts," a researcher said. The latest research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Google Cleans Up Gmail App With An All-White Redesign

While Gmail on the web was significantly redesigned last year, the app for Android and iOS stayed relatively unchanged, with the exception of an update last year that removed the bold colors in favor of an almost entirely white look. Engadget reports that a redesigned Gmail for mobile is starting to roll out today and it will be available to all Android and iOS users in the coming weeks. Engadget reports: Functionally, the new Gmail mobile app isn't wildly different than what came before. There's a button in the lower-right corner to compose a new email, just like before -- it's just white with a multi-colored "plus" sign, the same glyph that shows up in Gmail and Drive on the web. The iconic top red bar is now white, and the whole top area is a search bar; the old app required tapping a smaller target to get into search. Finally, there's a shortcut right to the account switcher on the main page. Previously, switching accounts required opening the sidebar, but now that option is front and center. A few features that came to the web version of Gmail make their way to mobile today. Probably most recognizable is that attachment previews will show up below the messages, making it easier to both find messages with attachments and get a sense of the content. For those that prefer to see more messages, Google also has "comfortable" and "compact" density options that remove attachment previews and avatars, respectively. The large red phishing warnings that Gmail on the web shows also now show up in the app. Visually, it looks just like you'd expect if you've tried any of Google's recent mobile apps -- it's basically all white, with the new Google font throughout.

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Ask Slashdot: What Could Go Wrong In Tech That Hasn’t Already Gone Wrong?

dryriver writes: If you look at the last 15 years in tech, just about everything that could go wrong seemingly has gone wrong. Everything you buy and bring into your home tracks you in some way or the other. Some software can only be rented now -- no permanent licenses available to buy. PC games are tethered into cloud crap like Steam, Origin and UPlay. China is messing with unborn baby genes. Drones have managed to mess up entire airports. The Scandinavians have developed a serious hatred of cash money and are instead getting themselves chipped. CPUs have horrible security. Every day some huge customer database somewhere gets pwned by hackers. Cybercrime has gone through the roof. You cannot trust the BIOS on your PC anymore. Windows 10 just will not stop updating itself. And AI is soon going to kill us all, if a self-driving car by Uber doesn't do it first. So: What has -- so far -- not gone wrong in tech that still could go wrong, and perhaps in a surprising way?

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Facebook Pays Teens To Install VPN That Spies On Them

A new report from TechCrunch details how "desperate" Facebook is for data on its competitors. The social media company "has been secretly paying people to install a 'Facebook Research' VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user's phone and web activity," a TechCrunch investigation confirms. "Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access in what may be a violation of Apple policy so the social network can decrypt and analyze their phone activity." From the report: Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android "Facebook Research" app. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook's involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as "Project Atlas" a fitting name for Facebook's effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe. We asked Guardian Mobile Firewall's security expert Will Strafach to dig into the Facebook Research app, and he told us that "If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate, they will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps -- including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed." It's unclear exactly what data Facebook is concerned with, but it gets nearly limitless access to a user's device once they install the app.

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New Proposal Would Ban Government Facial Recognition Use In San Francisco

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The San Francisco Examiner: San Francisco could be the first city in the nation to ban city agencies from using facial recognition surveillance technology under proposed legislation announced Tuesday by Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The legislation, which will be introduced at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, echoes ordinances adopted by cities including Oakland and Berkeley, as well as by the transit agency BART, that require legislative approval before city agencies or law enforcement adopt new surveillance technologies or policies for the use of existing technologies. However, the new proposal takes things a step further with an outright ban on facial recognition technology. The San Francisco proposal would not only ban facial recognition but would also require the Board of Supervisors to approve new surveillance technology in general. The board would have to find that the benefits of the technology outweigh the costs, that civil rights will be protected and that the technology will not disparately impact a community or group. Peskin portrayed the proposal to be introduced Tuesday as an extension of his "Privacy First Policy," approved by voters in November, which sets new limits and transparency requirements on the collection and use of personal data by companies doing business with The City.

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Apple Says Profits Were Flat, Citing Slump In China

Due to an economic slowdown in China and diminishing demand for new iPhones, Apple's profits in its most recent quarter were flat compared with a year earlier. "The disappointing financial performance had been expected since Jan. 2, when Apple, for the first time in 16 years, revised its forecast for the quarter," reports The New York Times. "But the announcement on Tuesday indicates a difficult road head for Apple, which just five months ago became the first company to be worth more than $1 trillion. The company said it expected between $55 billion and $59 billion in revenue in the current quarter, just below analysts' expectations for $59 billion. Apple's earnings per share were $4.18, beating analysts' expectations by a penny." In addition to the quarterly earnings, Apple reported revenue of $84.3 billion, a decline of 5 percent from one year ago. "Revenue from iPhone declined 15 percent from the prior year, while total revenue from all other products and services grew 19 percent," Apple said in a press release. Analysts had estimated revenue of $83.97 billion and earnings of $4.17 per share. "While it was disappointing to miss our revenue guidance, we manage Apple for the long term, and this quarter's results demonstrate that the underlying strength of our business runs deep and wide," said Tim Cook. Apple's active install base of 1.4 billion is "a great testament to the satisfaction and loyalty of our customers, and it's driving our services business to new records thanks to our large and fast-growing ecosystem," Cook said. The Verge adds: "iPhones account for 900 million of those devices. iPad revenues were up 17 percent against the year-ago quarter; Mac was up 9 percent; and Wearables/Home/Accessories were up by 33 percent."

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Game Retailer GameStop Says It Can’t Sell Itself, Sees Stock Drive 27 Percent

GameStop announced today that it has called off a decision to find a private buyer for the company and its subsidiaries. "The announcement ushered in the public company's largest stock-value dip in over 10 years, seeing it plummet in one day from $15.49 to (as of press time) $11.28 -- a dive of roughly 27 percent," reports Ars Technica. From the report: The Texas-based gaming retailer had been linked to acquisition rumors, as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that multiple private equity firms had been circling GameStop -- and its subsidiaries, including the merch-focused ThinkGeek and the gaming magazine Game Informer. That report had suggested a deal might close by mid-February. However, Tuesday's statement indicated that prospective deals fell through "due to the lack of available financing on terms that would be commercially acceptable to a prospective acquirer." The rest of the statement offers little clear hint of the company's next steps beyond pumping the cash from a recent subsidiary sale into options such as "reducing the company's outstanding debt, funding share repurchases, or reinvesting in core video game and collectibles businesses to drive growth."

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