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SciFi Author (and Byte Columnist) Jerry Pournelle Has Died
Posted by News Fetcher on September 09 '17 at 07:41 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's goodbye-Chaos-Manor department:
Long-time Slashdot reader BinBoy writes: Science fiction author and Byte magazine columnist Jerry Pournelle has died according to a statement by his son Alex posted to Jerry's web site. A well-wishing page has been set up for visitor's to post their thoughts and memories of Mr. Pournelle.
Pournelle's literary career included the 1985 science fiction novel Footfall with Larry Niven, which became a #1 New York Times best-seller -- one of several successful collaborations between the two authors. In a Slashdot interview in 2003, Larry Niven credited Jerry for the prominent role of religion in their 1974 book The Mote in God's Eye.

Wikipedia also remembers how Byte magazine announced Pournelle's legendary debut as a columnist in their June 1980 issue.

"The other day we were sitting around the BYTE offices listening to software and hardware explosions going off around us in the microcomputer world. We wondered, "Who could cover some of the latest developments for us in a funny, frank (and sometimes irascible) style?" The phone rang. It was Jerry Pournelle with an idea for a funny, frank (and sometimes irascible) series of articles to be presented in BYTE on a semi-regular (i.e.: every 2 to 3 months) basis, which would cover the wild microcomputer goings-on at the Pournelle House ("Chaos Manor") in Southern California. We said yes."

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Firefox 57 Will Hide Search Bar and Use a Uni-Bar Approach, Like Chrome
Posted by News Fetcher on September 09 '17 at 06:21 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's hide-and-seek department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Mozilla will drop an iconic section of its UI -- the search bar -- and will use one singular input bar atop the browser, similar to the approach of most Chromium browsers. This change will go live in Firefox 57, scheduled for release on November 14, and will be part of Photon -- the codename used to describe Firefox's new user interface (UI) -- also scheduled for a public release in v57. Mozilla engineers aren't removing the search bar altogether, but Firefox will hide this UI element by default. Users can still re-enable it by going to "Preferences -> Search -> Search Bar" and choosing the second option. The current Firefox search bar is redundant since most of its features can be performed by the URL address bar.

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Hobbyist Gives iPhone 7 the Headphone Jack We've Always Wanted
Posted by News Fetcher on September 09 '17 at 02:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's dream-come-true department:
intellitech shares a report from Engadget: For those of you who miss the iPhone headphone jack, you're definitely not alone. But Strange Parts creator Scotty Allen missed it so much that he decided to add one to his iPhone 7. He just posted a video of the project's entire saga, with all of its many ups and downs, and in the end he holds what he set out to create -- a current generation iPhone with a fully functional headphone jack. It turns out, real courage is adding the headphone jack back to the iPhone. The project took around 17 weeks to complete and throughout it Allen spent thousands of dollars on parts including multiple iPhones and screens and handfuls of lightning to headphone adaptors. Along the way, Allen bought a printer, a nice microscope and fancy tweezers. He had to design his own circuit boards, have a company manufacture multiple iterations of flexible circuit boards and at one point early on had to consult with a chip dealer that a friend hooked him up with. The final product works by using a lightning to headphone adaptor that's incorporated into the internal structure of the phone. However, because the headphone jack is powered via the phone's lightning jack with a circuit board switching between the two depending on whether headphones or a charger are plugged into the phone, you can't actually listen to music and charge the phone at the same time.

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El Nino's Absence Is Causing An Active Hurricane Season
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 11:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's active-ingredient department:
Dan Drollette writes: Contrary to some items making the rounds of the Twitterverse, El Nino's are "Kryptonite for hurricanes." The Mercury News reports: "Irma has ripped a path of misery through the Caribbean and is aiming at Florida, but the first seed for its monster size and force was planted on the other side of the world more than six months ago. It happened innocently enough, when a widely anticipated El Nino failed to materialize over the Pacific Ocean. In time, that cleared a path for a hurricane to form in the Atlantic that grew to the size of the state of New York with winds topping 185 miles per hour. El Nino occurs when the Pacific heats up and flusters the atmosphere, setting off a chain reaction that causes wind shear across the Atlantic. Shear is wind blowing in different directions or speeds at various altitudes, and it can be Kryptonite for hurricanes. As powerful as they are, tropical cyclones have delicate structures. Shear can tear them apart. A budding storm can't get started and an established storm can't get strong."

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AI Can Detect Sexual Orientation Based On Person's Photo
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 07:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's say-cheese department:
ugen shares a report from CNBC: Artificial Intelligence (AI) can now accurately identify a person's sexual orientation by analyzing photos of their face, according to new research. The Stanford University study, which is set to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and was first reported in The Economist, found that machines had a far superior "gaydar" when compared to humans. Slashdot reader randomlygeneratename adds: Researchers built classifiers trained on photos from dating websites to predict the sexual orientation of users. The best classifier used logistic regression over features extracted from a VGG-Face conv-net. The latter was done to prevent overfitting to background, non-facial information. Classical facial feature extraction also worked with a slight drop in accuracy. From multiple photos, they achieved an accuracy of 91% for men and 83% for women (and 81% / 71% for a single photo). Humans were only able to get 61% and 54%, respectively. One caveat is the paper mentions it only used Caucasian faces. The paper went on to discuss how this capability can be an invasion of privacy, and conjectured that other types of personal information might be detectable from photos. The source paper can be found here.

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FDA Slams EpiPen Maker For Doing Nothing While Hundreds Failed, People Died
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 06:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's I'll-be-damned department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The manufacturer of EpiPen devices failed to address known malfunctions in its epinephrine auto-injectors even as hundreds of customer complaints rolled in and failures were linked to deaths, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The damning allegations came to light today when the FDA posted a warning letter it sent September 5 to the manufacturer, Meridian Medical Technologies, Inc. The company (which is owned by Pfizer) produces EpiPens for Mylan, which owns the devices and is notorious for dramatically raising prices by more than 400 percent in recent years. The auto-injectors are designed to be used during life-threatening allergic reactions to provide a quick shot of epinephrine. If they fail to fire, people experiencing a reaction can die or suffer serious illnesses. According to the FDA, that's exactly what happened for hundreds of customers. In the letter, the agency wrote: "In fact, your own data show that you received hundreds of complaints that your EpiPen products failed to operate during life-threatening emergencies, including some situations in which patients subsequently died."
The agency goes on to lambast Meridian Medical for failing to investigate problems with the devices, recall bad batches, and follow-up on problems found. For instance, a customer made a complaint in April 2016 that an EpiPen failed. When Meridian disassembled the device, it found a deformed component that led to the problem -- the exact same defect it had found in February when another unit failed.

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India Aims To Put One Million Electric Vehicles On the Road By Mid-2019
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 06:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ambitious-goals department:
gubol123 shares a report from The Economic Times: Six leading car makers are eyeing the government's plan to buy 10,000 electric vehicles while policy makers are considering generous fiscal incentives to make their capital and running cost cheaper than petrol cars within five years. Broadly, the aim is to put on roads one million electric three-wheelers and 10,000 electric city buses by mid-2019 and make India the world leader in at least some segments of the market as the country strives to shift entirely to battery-powered transportation by 2030. In six to eight months, 10,000 e-vehicles are expected to be running in the national capital region. The tender to buy 10,000 e-vehicles has already attracted Tata Motors, Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra & Mahindra, and would be quickly followed by a dramatic scaling up of the e-vehicles program. The tender would be awarded by the end of this month and cars would start rolling in by mid-November.

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Best Buy Stops Selling Kaspersky Security Software
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 05:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cease-and-desist department:
swschrad writes: Call it a stampede, call it a business decision, but Best Buy has pulled Kaspersky internet security software from its shelves and website. Some in the U.S. government suspect Russian ties make it a suspicious product. Since all major security companies have links with each other and with government security agencies, sharing threat evidence to find counters, Kaspersky's defense seems valid. But if you want it, be prepared to buy it off their own website. Best Buy will give Kaspersky software purchasers 45 days to exchange it for free for another product if they want. Additionally, customers can also uninstall it themselves or have a Geek Squad agent do it for free within that time window.

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Ask Slashdot: What's a Practical Response To the Equifax Breach?
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 05:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department:
In response to the massive Equifax cybersecurity incident impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumer -- making it possibly the worst leak of personal info ever -- Slashdot reader AdamStarks asks: What steps can the average Joe take to protect their identity? Accepting Equifax's help forfeits your right to sue; it's the same with applying for protection at TransUnion (not sure about Experian). Extra services at those companies also cost money, but that's putting even more of your data in their hands, and it's not clear whether the protection/help they provide is worth it (leaving aside not wanting to reward bad behavior).

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Galaxy Note 8 Sets New Pre-Order Record For Samsung Despite Last Year's Disaster
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 05:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's record-breaking department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Note brand is still going strong despite Samsung recalling and discontinuing Note 7 devices last year for battery explosions. The company today announced that more customers in the U.S. have preordered the Note 8 than any other Notes it has ever sold in previous years during the same time period. Note 8 preorders went live on August 24th and the device is one of Samsung's most expensive smartphones to date, starting at $930. It's unapologetically pricey, though Samsung did attempt to offset that price tag with some presale offers. Samsung did not specify exactly how many Note 8 preorders it has received so far, but judging by how popular Note 7s were last year before everything went down, it seems that little has deterred Note fans from upgrading -- not even the price tag.

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Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 Sets New Pre-Order Record For Samsung Despite Last Year's Disaster
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 03:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's record-breaking department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Note brand is still going strong despite Samsung recalling and discontinuing Note 7 devices last year for battery explosions. The company today announced that more customers in the U.S. have preordered the Note 8 than any other Notes it has ever sold in previous years during the same time period. Note 8 preorders went live on August 24th and the device is one of Samsung's most expensive smartphones to date, starting at $930. It's unapologetically pricey, though Samsung did attempt to offset that price tag with some presale offers. Samsung did not specify exactly how many Note 8 preorders it has received so far, but judging by how popular Note 7s were last year before everything went down, it seems that little has deterred Note fans from upgrading -- not even the price tag.

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Apple and Google Fix Browser Bug. Microsoft Does Not.
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 03:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's privacy-woes department:
Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Microsoft has declined to patch a security bug Cisco Talos researchers discovered in the Edge browser, claiming the reported issue is by design. Apple and Google patched a similar flaw in Safari (CVE-2017-2419) and Chrome (CVE-2017-5033), respectively. According to Cisco Talos researcher Nicolai Grodum, the vulnerability can be classified as a bypass of the Content Security Policy (CSP), a mechanism that allows website developers to configure HTTP headers and instruct the browsers of people visiting their site what resources (JavaScript, CSS) they can load and from where. The Content Security Policy (CSP) is one of the tools that browsers use to enforce Same-Origin Policy (SOP) inside browsers. Grodum says that he found a way to bypass CSP -- technical details available here -- that will allow an attacker to load malicious JavaScript code on a remote site and carry out intrusive operations such as collecting information from users' cookies, or logging keystrokes inside the page's forms, and others.

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Uber Faces FBI Probe Over Program Targeting Rival Lyft
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 02:22 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's dig-a-hole-for-yourself department:
cdreimer writes: According to a report in The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternative source), Uber is under investigation by federal law-enforcement authorities for using a program called "Hell" to illegally interfere with the competition by creating fake Lyft accounts, initiating phony ride requests for Lyft drivers, and offering cash bonuses for drivers who drive for both services to leave Lyft. This is creating a new headache for incoming CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to deal with. From the report: "Federal law-enforcement authorities in New York are investigating whether Uber Technologies Inc. used software to interfere illegally with its competitors, according to people familiar with the investigation, adding to legal pressures facing the embattled ride-hailing company and its new chief executive. The investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office and the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office, is focused on a defunct Uber program, known internally as 'Hell,' that could track drivers working for rival service Lyft Inc., the people said. 'We are cooperating with the SDNY investigation,' said an Uber spokesman, referring to New York's Southern District. He declined to offer additional details. Uber has never publicly discussed the details of the program. But people familiar with the matter said 'Hell' worked like this: Uber created fake Lyft customer accounts, tricking Lyft's system into believing prospective customers were seeking rides in various locations around a city. That allowed Uber to see which Lyft drivers were nearby and what prices they were offering for various routes, similar to how such information appears when an authentic Lyft app is opened on a user's smartphone, these people said. The program was also used to glean data on drivers who worked for both companies, and whom Uber could target with cash incentives to get them to leave Lyft, said these people, who added that the program was discontinued last year."

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UN Aviation Agency To Call For Global Drone Registry
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 02:22 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's location-services department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The United Nations' aviation agency is backing the creation of a single global drone registry, as part of broader efforts to come up with common rules for flying and tracking unmanned aircraft. While the International Civil Aviation Organization cannot impose regulations on countries, ICAO has proposed formation of the registry during a Montreal symposium this month to make data accessible in real time, said Stephen Creamer, director of ICAO's air navigation bureau. The single registry would eschew multiple databases in favor of a one-stop-shop that would allow law enforcement to remotely identify and track unmanned aircraft, along with their operator and owner. It's not yet clear who would operate such a database, although ICAO could possibly fill that role. The proposal, however, could face push back from users, after hobbyists successfully challenged the creation of a U.S. drone registry by the Federal Aviation Administration in court earlier this year.

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Why It's So Hard To Trust Facebook
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 01:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's dubious department:
Brian Stelter, writing for CNN: Why won't Facebook show the public the propagandistic ads that a so-called Russian troll farm bought last year to target American voters? That lack of transparency is troubling to many observers. "Show us the ads Zuck!" Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote on Twitter when The Washington Post reported on the surreptitious ad buys on Wednesday. Calacanis said Facebook was "profiting off fake news," echoing a widely held criticism of the social network. It was only the latest example of Facebook's credibility problem. For a business based on the concept of friendship, it's proving to be a hard company to trust. On the business side, Facebook's metrics for advertisers have been error-prone, to say the least. Analysts and reporters have repeatedly uncovered evidence of faulty data and measurement mistakes. Facebook's opaqueness has also engendered mistrust in the political arena. Conservative activists have accused the company of censoring right-wing voices and stories. Liberal activists have raised alarms about its exploitation of personal information to target ads. And the news business is worried about the spread of bogus stories and hoaxes on the site. Some critics have even taken to calling Facebook a "surveillance company," seeking to reframe the business the social network is in -- not networking but ad targeting based on monitoring of users. Over at The Verge, Casey Newton documents inconsistencies in Facebook's public remarks over its role in the outcome of the presidential election last year. Newton says Facebook's shifting Russian ads stories and unwillingness to disclose information citing laws (which seem to imply otherwise) are damaging its credibility.

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Could 'Re-Engineering' Earth Help Ease the Hurricane Threat?
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 01:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's mission-saving-the-planet department:
As hurricanes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a $10-billion-a-year project proposes injecting sulfate into the atmosphere to cool down the Earth and reduce the number of hurricanes by 50% for a staggering 50 years. From a report: In an attempt to combat climate change, a multinational team of scientists are working on a plan to literally re-engineer the Earth in order to cool it down and reduce the impact of storm systems. For example, a team led by John Moore, who is the head of China's geoengineering research program, is studying how shading sulfate aerosols that are dispersed into the stratosphere could help cool the planet and reduce the number of hurricane occurrences. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, outlining how the plan works, Moore asserts, "We're basically mimicking a volcano and saying we're going to put 5 billion tons of sulfates a year into the atmosphere 20 kilometers high, and we'll do that for 50 years." In their current research model, in which the scientists tested a senario where the sulfate injection is doubled over time, the team found that incidences of Katrina-level hurricanes could be maintained (they would be kept at the same rate that we currently see) and that storm surges, which is the rise in seawater level that is caused solely by a storm, could be mitigated by half. The researchers noted that the volcanic eruption in 1912 of Katmai in Alaska "loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol [sulfates], and [was] followed by the least active hurricane season on record." Moore explains that warmer waters can spark and fuel hurricanes, and cooling them with shading sulfates reduces the size and intensity of these hurricanes.

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Mexican Tax Refund Site Left 400GB of Sensitive Customer Info Wide Open
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 11:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department:
Mexican VAT refund site MoneyBack exposed sensitive customer information online as a result of a misconfigured database. From a report: A CouchDB database featuring half a million customers' passport details, credit card numbers, travel tickets and more was left publicly accessible, security firm Kromtech reports. More than 400GB of sensitive information could be either downloaded or viewed because of a lack of access controls before the system was recently secured.

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Are We Being Watched? Tens of Other Worlds Could Spot the Earth
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 11:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's flip-it department:
A group of scientists from Queen's University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods. From a report: They find that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Thanks to facilities and missions such as SuperWASP and Kepler, we have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun, worlds known as 'exoplanets.' The vast majority of these are found when the planets cross in front of their host stars in what are known as 'transits,' which allow astronomers to see light from the host star dim slightly at regular intervals every time the planet passes between us and the distant star. In the new study, the authors reverse this concept and ask, "How would an alien observer see the Solar System?" They identified parts of the distant sky from where various planets in our Solar System could be seen to pass in front of the Sun - so-called 'transit zones' -- concluding that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are actually much more likely to be spotted than the more distant 'Jovian' planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), despite their much larger size. To look for worlds where civilisations would have the best chance of spotting our Solar System, the astronomers looked for parts of the sky from which more than one planet could be seen crossing the face of the Sun. They found that three planets at most could be observed from anywhere outside of the Solar System, and that not all combinations of three planets are possible.

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VR's Tough Demand: Your Undivided Attention
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's one-perspective department:
Ina Fried, writing for Axios: If you want to know why virtual reality hasn't taken off, you might want to blame our addiction to smartphones. Why? While the power of VR is to be transported into an immersive experience, consumers will demand a lot out of something that makes them give up Twitter and Facebook, even for a few minutes. One perspective: "It has to be a really compelling reason to get you to give up all that," Shauna Heller, a former Oculus worker who now consults on VR projects, said Thursday at the Mobile Future Forward conference near Seattle. "There aren't just a ton of those reasons just yet."

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A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening To Topple Taxonomy
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's what's-happening department:
From a report: To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus's two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library's Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years. But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians -- and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they're referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others' original research in order to justify their so-called "discoveries." "It's unethical name creation based on other people's work," says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. "It's that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem." The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward -- and with them, the temptation to misbehave. "If you name a new species, there's some notoriety to it," Thomson says. "You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species." The problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. "Now there's a hesitation to present our data publically, and that's how scientists communicate," Thomson says. "The problem that causes is that you don't know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other's toes."

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