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Google Fiber Sheds Workers As It Looks to a Wireless Future

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 1:20pm
Mariella Moon, writing for Engadget: Alphabet is making some huge changes to steer Google Fiber in a new, more wireless direction. According to Wired, the corporation has reassigned hundreds of Fiber employees to other parts of the company and those who remained will mostly work in the field. It has also hired broadband veteran Greg McCray as the new CEO for Access, the division that runs Google Fiber. These changes don't exactly come out of left field: back in October, Google announced that it's pausing the high-speed internet's expansion to new markets and that it's firing nine percent of the service's staff. Wired says running fiber optic cables into people's homes has become too expensive for the company. A Recode report last year says it costs Mountain View $1 billion to bring Fiber to a new market.

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Tech Jobs Took a Big Hit Last Year

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:40pm
Barb Darrow, writing for Fortune: Tech jobs took it on the chin last year. Layoffs at computer, electronics, and telecommunications companies were up 21 percent to 96,017 jobs cut in 2016, compared to 79,315 the prior year. Tech layoffs accounted for 18 percent of the total 526,915 U.S. job cuts announced in 2016, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm based in Chicago. Of the 2016 total, some 66,821 of the layoffs came from computer companies, up 7% year over year. Challenger attributed much of that increase to cuts made by Dell Technologies, the entity formed by the $63 billion convergence of Dell and EMC. In preparation for that combination, layoffs were instituted across EMC and its constituent companies, including VMware.

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CloudFlare Puts Pirate Sites on New IP Addresses, Avoids Cogent Blockade

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:00pm
Earlier this month, several users worldwide reported that they were unable to access pirate websites including the Pirate Bay. It was because the internet backbone network of Cogent Communications had blackholed the CloudFlare IP-address of pirate websites. Less than a week later, CloudFlare is fighting back. From a report on TorrentFreak: The Pirate Bay and dozens of other pirate sites that were blocked by Cogent's Internet backbone are now accessible again. CloudFlare appears to have moved the sites in question to a new pair of IP-addresses, effectively bypassing Cogent's blackhole. [...] As of yesterday, the sites in question have been assigned the IP-addresses 104.31.16.3 and 104.31.17.3, still grouped together. Most, if not all of the sites, are blocked by court order in the UK so this is presumably done to prevent ISP overblocking of 'regular' CloudFlare subscribers.

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YouTube Has 1 Billion Videos With Closed-Captioning (But Not All of Them Are Accurate)

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 11:20am
Over a billion videos on YouTube are accessible to viewers with difficulties in hearing, thanks to the video giant's automated captions, it said Thursday. From a report on Variety: That certainly sounds impressive -- except when you realize that many of the site's automatically generated captions aren't completely right. The Google-owned video giant first launched captions back in 2006, and three years later introduced automatic speech recognition to add closed-captioning to YouTube content. Today, YouTube users watch video with auto-generated captions more than 15 million times per day. But the system is prone to errors. For example, the trailer for Amazon Studio's Oscar-nominated "Manchester by the Sea" (at this link) includes numerous inaccuracies in the auto-transcribed captions, sometimes to hilarious -- not to mention frustrating -- effect.

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EU Privacy Watchdogs Seek Assurances on US Data Transfer Pact

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:40am
European Union data privacy watchdogs will seek assurances from U.S. authorities that a move by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigration will not undermine a transatlantic pact protecting the privacy of Europeans' data. From a report: European concerns have been raised by an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 25 aiming to toughen enforcement of U.S. immigration law. The order directs U.S. agencies to "exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information." The exemption of foreigners from the U.S. law governing how federal agencies collect and use information about people has stoked worries across the Atlantic about the new administration's approach to privacy and its impact on cross-border data flows.

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Sprint's New Unlimited Plan Adds HD Streaming, Four Lines For $90

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:00am
Take that, Verizon! Sprint's unlimited data plan now has HD video too. From a report: On February 16, Sprint upped its unlimited plan, launching the "best unlimited HD plan ever", according to its press release. The new plan matches Verizon Wireless' new unlimited plan by offering unlimited calls, text, data, HD video streaming, and 10 GB of mobile hotspot for $22.50 per line, for four lines. That equates to $90 per month for four lines, or half of what Verizon Wireless is charging. Sprint's plan requires the account owner to enable AutoPay, ensuring the bill is paid on time each month. For those who don't need four lines, the first line will set you back $50 per month, two lines of service will bump it $90 per month.

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Valve 'Comfortable' If Virtual Reality Headsets Fail

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 9:20am
VR headset developer Valve is "comfortable" with the idea that the technology could turn out to be a complete failure. Gabe Newell, head of the game studio, made the statement in an interview with news site Polygon. From a report: Valve is co-developer of the Vive VR headset with phone firm HTC. Mr Newell said, so far, interest in the technology was in line with its expectations and that some VR games had already sold well. In the rare and wide-ranging interview, Mr Newell said the advent of VR had much in common with the development of PCs in the 1980s. In both cases, he said, people bought technology without knowing why and discovered afterwards what they were good for. For the PC, he said, it was spreadsheets and businesses that drove the initial success. With VR, people were only starting to discover compelling uses as they experimented and took risks with the technology.Mr Newell said there were now about 1,300 VR-based applications on its Steam gaming service and about 30 of those had made more than $250,000 in revenue.

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Google Releases TensorFlow 1.0 With New Machine Learning Tools

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 8:40am
An anonymous reader shares a VentureBeat report: At Google's inaugural TensorFlow Dev Summit in Mountain View, California, today, Google announced the release of version 1.0 of its TensorFlow open source framework for deep learning, a trendy type of artificial intelligence. Google says the release is now production-ready by way of its application programing interface (API). But there are also new tools that will be part of the framework, which includes artificial neural networks that can be trained on data and can then make inferences about new data. Now there are more traditional machine learning tools, including K-means and support vector machines (SVMs), TensorFlow's engineering director, Rajat Monga, said at the conference. And there's an integration with the Python-based Keras library, which was originally meant to ease the use of the Theano deep learning framework. And there are now "canned estimators," or models, Monga said, including simple neural networks to start using quickly.

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Linus Torvalds: Talk of Tech Innovation is Bullshit. Shut Up and Get the Work Done

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 8:00am
Linus Torvalds believes the technology industry's celebration of innovation is smug, self-congratulatory, and self-serving. From a report on The Register: The term of art he used was more blunt: "The innovation the industry talks about so much is bullshit," he said. "Anybody can innovate. Don't do this big 'think different'... screw that. It's meaningless. Ninety-nine per cent of it is get the work done." In a deferential interview at the Open Source Leadership Summit in California on Wednesday, conducted by Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, Torvalds discussed how he has managed the development of the Linux kernel and his attitude toward work. "All that hype is not where the real work is," said Torvalds. "The real work is in the details." Torvalds said he subscribes to the view that successful projects are 99 per cent perspiration, and one per cent innovation.

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Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 11:00pm
"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.

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Ethicists Advise Caution In Applying CRISPR Gene Editing To Humans

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 7:30pm
New submitter Baron_Yam quotes a report from Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source): Ethicists have been working overtime to figure out how to handle CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing technique that could potentially prevent congenital diseases but could also be used for cosmetic enhancements and lead to permanent, heritable changes in the human species. The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human "germline" if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations. For some ethicists, that represents a slippery slope. At the conclusion of a gene-editing summit in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences in December 2015, scientists said that although some basic research could proceed, it would be irresponsible to use genetically modified germline cells for the purpose of establishing a pregnancy. But the new report takes a slightly more permissive, forward-thinking position, saying that, if and when such interventions are proved safe -- which could be in the near future -- and if numerous criteria are met to ensure that such gene editing is regulated and limited, it could potentially be used to treat rare, serious diseases. "We say proceed with all due caution, but we don't prohibit germline, after considerable discussion and debate," said Richard Hynes, an MIT biologist and one of the leaders of the new study. "We're talking only about fixing diseases."

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Bipartisan Bill Seeks Warrants For Police Use of 'Stingray' Cell Trackers

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 5:25pm
Tulsa_Time quotes a report from USA Today: A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday requiring police agencies to get a search warrant before they can deploy powerful cellphone surveillance technology known as "stingrays" that sweep up information about the movements of innocent Americans while tracking suspected criminals. "Owning a smartphone or fitness tracker shouldn't give the government a blank check to track your movements," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who introduced the bill with Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and John Conyers, D-Mich. "Law enforcement should be able to use GPS data, but they need to get a warrant. This bill sets out clear rules to make sure our laws keep up with the times." The legislation introduced Wednesday, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, would require a warrant for all domestic law enforcement agencies to track the location and movements of individual Americans through GPS technology without their knowledge. It also aims to combat high-tech stalking by creating criminal penalties for secretly using an electronic device to track someone's movements.

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Autism Starts Months Before Symptoms Appear, Study Shows

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 4:45pm
A new study published this week in the journal Nature suggests there is evidence of autism in the brain well before symptoms start to appear. Typically, the earliest that children are diagnosed with the disorder is at the age of two, although often times it is even later. Scientists may now be able to detect the disorder well before a child's first birthday via a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Scientific American reports: Researchers conducted MRI scans on 150 children three times: at six months old, one year and two years. Just over 100 of the children were at high risk because they had an older sibling diagnosed with autism. The faster growth rate of the surface areas of their brains correctly predicted eight times out of 10 which of the high-risk children would go on to be diagnosed with the condition. Enlargement of the brain seemed to correlate with the arrival of symptoms, says Heather Hazlett, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina's Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), and the paper's lead author. Still, with only 100 at-risk children, the study is too small to be considered definitive -- nor should doctors rush to use MRIs to diagnose autism, Hazlett says. But if the study results are confirmed in future research, it could offer a new option for screening high-risk children before their symptoms become obvious -- and possibly at a time when treatment will be most effective.

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JavaScript Attack Breaks ASLR On 22 CPU Architectures

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 4:05pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Five researchers from the Vrije University in the Netherlands have put together an attack that can be carried out via JavaScript code and break ASLR protection on at least 22 microprocessor architectures from vendors such as Intel, AMD, ARM, Allwinner, Nvidia, and others. The attack, christened ASLRCache, or AnC, focuses on the memory management unit (MMU), a lesser known component of many CPU architectures, which is tasked with improving performance for cache management operations. What researchers discovered was that this component shares some of its cache with untrusted applications, including browsers. This meant that researchers could send malicious JavaScript that specifically targeted this shared memory space and attempted to read its content. In layman's terms, this means an AnC attack can break ASLR and allow the attacker to read portions of the computer's memory, which he could then use to launch more complex exploits and escalate access to the entire OS. Researchers have published two papers [1, 2] detailing the AnC attack, along with two videos[1, 2] showing the attack in action.

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Nearly 56,000 Bridges Called Structurally Deficient

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 3:20pm
schwit1 quotes a report from USA Today: Nearly 56,000 bridges nationwide, which vehicles cross 185 million times a day, are structurally deficient, a bridge construction group announced Wednesday. The list is based on Transportation Department data. The department scores bridges on a nine-point scale, and while the deficient ones might not be imminently unsafe, they are classified in need of attention. More than one in four bridges (173,919) are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work, according to the ARTBA analysis. State transportation officials have identified 13,000 bridges along interstates that need replacement, widening or major reconstruction, according to the group. "America's highway network is woefully underperforming," said Alison Premo Black, the group's chief economics who conducted the analysis. "It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization." The five states with the most deficient bridges are Iowa with 4,968, Pennsylvania with 4,506, Oklahoma with 3,460, Missouri with 3,195 and Nebraska with 2,361. The eight states where at least 15% of the bridges are deficient are: Rhode Island at 25%, Pennsylvania at 21%, Iowa and South Dakota at 20%, West Virginia at 17%, and Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma at 15%.

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Patent Office Rules CRISPR Patents, Potentially Worth Billions, Belong To Broad Institute

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 2:40pm
According to a ruling by judges at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the disputed patents on the gene-editing tool CRISPR belong to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "The ruling comes a little over two months after a high-profile court hearing, during which MIT and University of California, Berkeley heatedly argued about who should own CRISPR," The Verge reports. From their report: STAT News reported that the decision was one sentence long. The three judges decided that the Broad patents are different enough from the ones the University of California applied for that the Broad patents stand. The patent ruling suggests that the work done by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California and her colleagues on CRISPR wasn't so groundbreaking as to make any other advance obvious. But that legal opinion isn't how the science world views her work, STAT points out: "Doudna and her chief collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in the life sciences in 2015, the $500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in 2015, and the $450,000 Japan Prize in 2017," the outlet notes.

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MariaDB Fixes Business Source License, Releases MaxScale 2.1

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 2:20pm
Creator of The Open Source Definition and longtime Slashdot reader Bruce Perens writes: MariaDB is releasing MaxScale 2.1, a new version of their database routing proxy, and has modified its timed-transition-to-Open-Source "Business Source License" to make it more acceptable to the Open Source community and more easily usable by other companies. I've blogged the issues I had with the license and how MariaDB has fixed them, and Kaj Arno has blogged the MariaDB side of the story. Here's an excerpt from Perens' blog post: "The BSL is a parameterized license. The licensor chooses the license which is transitioned to, the date of the transition, and the limitation. The problem with this is that it was so parameterized that if you told someone the license was 'BSL 1.0,' they would not have any idea what license they really had. It might transition to any of 100 Open Source licenses, or to a non-Open-Source license. The transition might happen in a month, or next century. The limitation might be that you could only have three commercial servers, or that you indentured your firstborn son (OK, that's going overboard, but you get the picture)." He continues, "So, I didn't like that 'BSL' didn't really say what the license did, and I didn't feel that was the best thing for the users or the community. I asked MariaDB to fix it. Together we have arrived at constraints on the parameters and minimum privileges that will take the new BSL much closer to being one license while still allowing licensors some latitude to choose parameters."

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Utilities Vote To Close Largest Coal Plant In Western US

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 2:00pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: At 2.25 gigawatts, Arizona's Navajo Generating Station is the biggest coal-burning power plant in the Western U.S. The plant, and the nearby Kayenta coal mine that feeds it, are located on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the Navajo and Hopi peoples have had a conflicted relationship with coal since the plant opened in the 1970s. Almost all the 900-plus jobs at the mine and plant are held by Native Americans, and the tribes receive royalties to account for large portions of their budget. Negotiations were underway to improve the tribes' lease terms, which expire in 2019. But on Monday, the four utilities that own most of the plant voted to close it at the end of 2019. They decided that the plant's coal-powered electricity just can't compete with plants burning natural gas. A press release from Salt River Projects, which runs the plant, explained, "The decision by the utility owners of [Navajo Generating Station] is based on the rapidly changing economics of the energy industry, which has seen natural gas prices sink to record lows and become a viable long-term and economical alternative to coal power."

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Dutch Town Pilots Lightlines To Help Distracted Smartphone Users Cross the Road

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 1:20pm
An anonymous reader writes: A Dutch municipality has introduced pedestrian traffic lights specifically designed to help smartphone users avoid stepping into traffic by displaying a colorful strip of light on the pavement. Built by Dutch firm HIG Traffic Systems, the new +LightLine light comes with a LED strip that illuminates the pavement with a horizontal strip before the road crossing. Smartphone users looking at their phone will see the color of the strip beneath their feet before stepping out into the road.

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Yahoo Notifying Users of Malicious Account Activity as Verizon Deal Progresses

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:40pm
Kate Conger, writing for TechCrunch: Yahoo is continuing to issue warnings to users about several security incidents as it moves toward an acquisition by Verizon. Users are receiving notifications today about unauthorized access to their accounts in 2015 and 2016, which occurred due to previously disclosed cookie forging. "As we have previously disclosed, our outside forensic experts have been investigating the creation of forged cookies that could have enabled an intruder to access our users' accounts without a password. The investigation has identified user accounts for which we believe forged cookies were taken or used. Yahoo is in the process of notifying all potentially affected account holders. Yahoo has invalidated the forged cookies so they cannot be used again," a Yahoo spokesperson told TechCrunch.

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