By EditorDavid from Slashdot's squashing-bugs department
NBC News reports on how microbiologist Gerry Quinn "followed up on some folklore his family had passed on to him."
Old timers insisted that the dirt in the vicinity of a nearly 1,500-year-old church in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, an area once occupied by the Druids, had almost miraculous curative powers.... "Here in the western fringes of Ireland there is still a tradition of having this folk cure," Quinn told NBC News. "We can look at it and see maybe it's just superstition -- or we can actually investigate and ask, 'is there anything in the soil that produces antibiotics...?'"
Once Quinn and his team decided to focus on the Irish soil, they narrowed their search to a specific type of bacteria, called Streptomyces, because other strains of this bacteria have led to the development of 75 percent of existing antibiotics, Quinn said. The bacteria was discovered by a team based at Swansea University Medical School, made up of researchers from Wales, Brazil, Iraq and Northern Ireland. The researchers first tried the newly discovered strain of Streptomyces on some garden variety bacteria. In their petri dish experiment, "it knocked them out," Quinn said. "Then we thought we'd take it one step further and find some multi-resistant organisms."
The bacteria in the experiment killed four out of the top six organisms that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA. "It's quite surprising," said Quinn... "The lesson is, some of the cures are right underneath your feet."
Vaughn Cooper, an evolutionary geneticist/microbiologist at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine, tells NBC that more research is needed before this yields a super-antibiotic -- but "it's a cool discovery."
The World Health Organization has named antibiotic resistance as one of 2019's ten top public health threats.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I-see-what-you-did-there department
An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press:
Most states ban texting behind the wheel, but a legislative proposal could make Nevada one of the first states to allow police to use a contentious technology to find out if a person was using a cellphone during a car crash... If the Nevada measure passes, it would allow police to use a device known as the "textalyzer," which connects to a cellphone and looks for user activity, such as opening a Facebook messenger call screen. It is made by Israel-based company Cellebrite, which says the technology does not access or store personal content. It has not been tested in the field and is not being used by any law enforcement agencies. The company said the device could be tested in the field if the Nevada legislation passes...
Opponents air concerns that the measure violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, also raised questions over how the software will work and if it will be open sourced so the public can ensure it doesn't access personal content...
Law enforcement officials argue that distracted driving is underreported and that weak punishments do little to stop drivers from texting, scrolling or otherwise using their phones. Adding to the problem, they say there is no consistent police practice that holds those drivers accountable for traffic crashes, unlike drunken driving.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's memory-holes department
Google+ "was an Internet-based social network. It was almost 8 years old," reports KilledByGoogle.com, which bills itself as "The Google Graveyard: A list of dead products Google has killed and laid to rest in the Google Cemetery."
But before Google+ closes for good in April, its posts are being preserved by Internet Archive and the ArchiveTeam, reports the Verge:
In a post on Reddit, the sites announced that they had begun their efforts to archive the posts using scripts to capture and back up the data in an effort to preserve it. The teams say that their efforts will only encompass posts that are currently available to the public: they won't be able to back up posts that are marked private or deleted... They also note that they won't be able to capture everything: comment threads have a limit of 500 comments, "but only presents a subset of these as static HTML. It's not clear that long discussion threads will be preserved." They also say that images and video won't be preserved at full resolution...
They also urge people who don't want their content to be archived to delete their accounts, and pointed to a procedure to request the removal of specific content.
A bit of history: Linus Torvalds launched a Google+ page in 2017 called "Gadget Reviews" -- where he made exactly six posts.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's building-blocks department
"When your phone rings, there's about a 50 percent chance it's a spam robo-call," reports the Washington Post. Now a computer science professor who's researched robo-call technologies reveals the economics behind automatically dialing phone numbers "either randomly, or from massive databases compiled from automated Web searches, leaked databases of personal information and marketing data."
It doesn't matter whether you've signed up with the federal Do Not Call Registry, although companies that call numbers on the list are supposed to be subject to large fines. The robo-callers ignore the list, and evade penalties because they can mask the true origins of their calls.... Each call costs a fraction of a cent -- and a successful robo-call scam can net millions of dollars. That more than pays for all the calls people ignored or hung up on, and provides cash for the next round. Casting an enormous net at low cost lets these scammers find a few gullible victims who can fund the whole operation...
Partly that's because their costs are low. Most phone calls are made and connected via the Internet, so robo-call companies can make tens of thousands, or even millions, of calls very cheaply. Many of the illegal robo-calls targeting the United States probably come from overseas -- which used to be extremely expensive but now is far cheaper...
Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission has been asking U.S. phone companies to filter calls and police their own systems to keep out robo-calls. It hasn't worked, mainly because it's too costly and technically difficult for phone companies to do that. It's hard to detect fake Caller ID information, and wrongly blocking a legitimate call could cause them legal problems.
The professor's article suggests guarding your phone number like you guard your credit card numbers. "Don't give your phone number to strangers, businesses or websites unless it's absolutely necessary."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's arrival-times department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from public news station KNPR about how close weare flying taxi services:
The dream of flying cars is as at least as old as the automobile itself. Bell, which makes attack helicopters for the U.S. Navy, is working on this new project with another high-profile partner, Uber. The prototype, the Bell Nexus, was unveiled earlier this year. Boeing and Airbus also have prototypes of these flying cars in the works. Uber has become the face of the aerial mobility movement as it has the most public campaign touting its work so far. Elon Musk says he'll get us to Mars. Uber says it'll get a millennial from San Francisco to San Jose in 15 minutes flat (instead of the two-hour slog in morning traffic). And its timeline for this flying taxi that does not yet exist is 2023...
NASA is another Uber partner. While Jaiwon Shin, NASA's associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, thinks Uber is being a little bullish -- he'd put the timeline further out, to the mid-2020s -- Shin says it's close. "Convergence of many different technologies are maturing to the level that now aviation can benefit to put these things together," he said. The batteries that power electric cars can evolve further, to power flight. Companies can stockpile and pool data, and build artificial intelligence to take over air traffic control, managing the thousands of drones and taxis in the air.
And Uber, his partner, is really well-connected. While fighting the legacy taxi industry, Uber made so many government and lobbyist contacts, that that Rolodex can help grease the wheels -- or wings.
"While no flying taxi exists yet, Uber has dared to estimate the 'near-term' cost of that San Francisco to San Jose trip: $43," the article reports -- suggesting that could create a new division in society.
"With flying cars, the haves can escape to the air and leave the have-nots forgotten in their potholes."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's messes-in-Texas department
In Texas the local car dealer lobby has blocked Tesla from selling its cars directly to customers. They're using old laws meant to prevent car manufacturers from competing with their own local dealers -- but Tesla never had any local dealers!
And according to Electrek, it gets worse...
Despite this issue, Texans have bought thousands of Tesla vehicles, which the automaker delivers from other states to comply with the law. Tesla has been able to service those vehicles through its own service centers, which are not subject to those same direct-sale rules, but now dealers are even going after Tesla's right to service its cars.
Quartz offers some additional coverage:
At issue is a battle over money. Car dealers derive much of their revenue from selling and (especially) servicing vehicles. Tesla's direct-to-customer sales and service stations are a threat to that business model since they cut dealers out of the transaction.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's unmasked-singers department
To avoid copyright claims, "YouTube creators and Twitch streamers have been performing terrible a capella covers of popular songs," reports the Verge:
React videos are a huge part of YouTube's current culture; people lift popular movie trailers and film their reactions to what's happening on-screen. These videos are typically monetized... In recent months, YouTube creators have run into copyright issues while making TikTok reaction videos, where they collect cringey TikTok clips and either react or provide commentary on them. [T]hose TikTok videos contain music from artists signed to labels like Sony and Warner, and those labels will issue copyright claims, preventing creators from monetizing their videos... TikTok videos include less than 10 seconds of music, yet that can still be enough to receive a copyright claim -- on TikTok itself, the music is all licensed from the labels...
To work around that, creators like Danny Gonzalez and Kurtis Conner have started replacing the music with their own singing. Gonzalez and Conner half-heartedly sing songs like Linkin Park's "In The End" and Imagine Dragons' "Believer" while the corresponding TikTok video plays on screen... It's a little painful to hear, but ultimately a very fun loophole in the copyright system that YouTube has to enforce... The hope is that major labels like Sony Music or Warner Music Group can't claim copyright infringement, or at least that the singing won't trigger YouTube's automated system for finding copyrighted content.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's make-edits-make-money department
The Huffington Post ran a bombshell report this week on one of a handful of people who have "figured out how to manipulate Wikipedia's supposedly neutral system to turn a profit." They're describing Ed Sussman, a former head of digital for Fast Company and Inc.com who's now paid to do damage control by relentlessly lobbying for changes to Wikipedia pages. "In just the past few years, companies including Axios, NBC, Nextdoor and Facebook's PR firm have all paid him to manipulate public perception using a tool most people would never think to check. And it almost always works."
The benefit of hiring Sussman, aside from insulating talking heads from the humiliation of being found to have edited their own pages, is that he applies the exacting and annoying vigor of an attorney to Wikipedia's stringent editing rules. Further, because his opponents in these arguments are not opposing lawyers but instead Wikipedia's unpaid editors, he's really effective. From HuffPost:
"Sussman's main strategy for convincing editors to make the changes his clients want is to cite as many tangentially related rules as possible (he is, after all, a lawyer). When that doesn't work, though, his refusal to ever back down usually will. He often replies to nearly every single bit of pushback with walls of text arguing his case. Trying to get through even a fraction of it is exhausting, and because Wikipedia editors are unpaid, there's little motivation to continue dealing with Sussman's arguments. So he usually gets his way."
NBC and Axios confirmed that they hired Sussman, and an Axios spokesperson told HuffPost that the site "hired him to correct factual inaccuracies." The spokesperson added "pretty sure lots of people do this," which may or may not be true.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's dark-clouds department
"In the cloud wars, Microsoft has been able to win big business from retailers, largely because companies like Walmart, Kroger, Gap and Target are opting not to write big checks to rival Amazon," reports CNBC:
The more Amazon grows, the more that calculation could start working its way into other industries -- like automotive. In a recent interview with CNBC, Volkswagen's Heiko Huttel, who runs the company's connected car division, said the carmaker chose Microsoft Azure late last year for its "Automotive Cloud" project after considering Amazon Web Services... "If I take a look at all the competitors out there, you see they have capabilities in disrupting you at the customer interface," HÃ¼ttel said. "Then you have to carefully choose who is really getting down into the car, where you open up a lot of data to these people, and then you have to carefully choose with whom you are doing business."
Microsoft likes to tout the merits of its cloud technology, but the company is fully aware that taking on AWS, which has a commanding lead in the cloud infrastructure market, isn't just about offering the best services... Microsoft doesn't break out Azure revenue, but analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate that it accounted for almost 10 percent of sales in the latest quarter.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's touching-the-moon department
"Scientists are hoping to unlock some of the universe's mysteries through 50-year-old moon rocks," reports the New York Daily News -- specifically, three samples that spent that half century sealed in airtight canisters.
One Apollo 18 sample from 1972 contains 1.8 pounds of a vacuum-sealed lunar core that is a stratified layer of rock that will be studied by six research teams. About 842 pounds of lunar rocks and soil have been brought back to Earth over six missions. Although a great deal of it has found its way to science labs, technological breakthroughs should allow for a more thorough comprehension of the satellite's chemical and geological composition...
"When the previous generations did Apollo, they knew the technology they had in that day was not the technology we would have in this day," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "So they made a determination that they would preserve samples. â¦ I'd like to thank, if it's OK, the Apollo generation, for preserving these samples, so that our generation could have this opportunity."
An anonymous Slashdot reader writes, "That's remarkable considering how often moon rocks were misplaced over the years."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's we-got-the-beat department
An anonymous reader quotes Engadget:
Researchers from Stanford University's School of Medicine presented results from a giant study sponsored by Apple Inc. that showed the Apple Watch can sometimes spot patients with undiagnosed heart-rhythm problems, without producing large numbers of false alarms. The Apple-sponsored trial enrolled 419,297 people and was one of the largest heart-screening studies ever.
The study, details of which are being presented today at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, used the watch's sensors to detect possible atrial fibrillation... People who have atrial fibrillation are at risk of blood clots and strokes. In the U.S., it causes 750,000 hospitalizations a year and contributes to 130,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because it doesn't always produce outward symptoms, it can go undiagnosed. According to results presented Saturday, about 0.5 percent of patients in the study -- or almost 2,100 people -- received notices from their watch indicating that they might have a heart-rhythm problem. That relatively low number showed that the technology wasn't inundating people with worrisome alerts.
People receiving a notification were asked to then wear an ECG (electrocardiography) patch, according to the Verge, adding that Stanford reports "84 percent of the time, participants who received irregular pulse notifications were found to be in atrial fibrillation at the time of the notification."
The dean of Stanford's medical school says the study "opens the door to further research into wearable technologies and how they might be used to prevent disease before it strikes."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's powder-keg department
Stephen O'Grady, co-founder of the industry analyst firm RedMonk, asks whether open source vendors are marching towards an inevitable and damaging war with big cloud providers:
In the last twelve to eighteen months...a switch has been flipped. Companies have gone from regarding cloud providers like Amazon, Google or Microsoft as not even worth mentioning as competition to dreadful, existential threat. The fear of these cloud providers has become so overpowering, in fact, that commercial open source vendors have chosen -- against counsel, in many cases -- to walk down strategic paths that violate open source cultural norms, trigger massive and sustained negative PR and jeopardize relationships with developers, partners and customers. Specifically, commercial open source providers have increasingly turned to models that blur the lines between open source and proprietary software in an attempt to access the strengths of both, with the higher probability outcome of ending up with their weaknesses instead.
That commercial open source providers took these actions having been advised of these and other risks in advance says everything about how these businesses view their prospects in a world increasingly dominated by massive providers of cloud infrastructure and an expanding array of services that sit on top of that. The strategic decisions inarguably have major, unavoidable negative consequences, but commercial open source providers -- or their investors, at least -- believe that a lack of action would be even more damaging.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's speaking-of-fantasies department
CNBC reports Dungeons and Dragons "has found something its early fans never expected: Popularity."
The days of hiding away in a basement rolling dice and playing "Dungeons and Dragons" in darkness is over. More than 40 years after the first edition of "Dungeons and Dragons" hit shelves, video platforms Twitch and YouTube are leading a renaissance of the fantasy roleplaying board game -- and business is booming. "DnD has been around for 45 years and it is more popular now than it has ever been," said Greg Tito, senior communications manager, at Wizards of the Coast. In each of the last five years, sales of "Dungeons and Dragons" merchandise has grown by double digits.
The company, owned by toymaker Hasbro, attributes this massive sales boom to the launch of the fifth edition of the game in 2014 and to "Critical Role," a weekly show on live streaming video platform Twitch that features voice actors from TV shows and video games playing "Dungeons and Dragons...." "When a new edition for a game like this releases, there is that flurry of activity, people get really excited about it and then, historically, that excitement has waned," he said. "The fifth edition has completely blown that model out of the water. With the release in 2014, it has grown and only continued to grow. Every kind of statistical model we've been able to to use from the history of 'Dungeons and Dragons' has been broken at this point. So, we are in uncharted territory...."
"Critical Role" has become so popular that when it launched a Kickstarter last week to create an animated special based on the characters from the first campaign, it was funded within one hour. The team behind the web series had wanted $750,000 to fund the endeavor. With 33 days remaining in the crowdfunding campaign, "Critical Role" has raised more than $7.3 million from 53,000 backers.
It is now the most-funded film/video project in Kickstarter history.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's tired-arguments department
Zorro (Slashdot reader #15,759), shares Reuters' report about Michael Sharpe, a medical researcher studying chronic fatigue syndrome, "a little-understood condition that can bring crushing tiredness and pain."
Eight years after he published results of a clinical trial that found some patients with chronic fatigue syndrome can get a little better with the right talking and exercise therapies, the Oxford University professor is subjected to almost daily, often anonymous, intimidation... They object to his work, they said, because they think it suggests their illness is psychological. Sharpe, a professor of psychological medicine, says that isn't the case. He believes that chronic fatigue syndrome is a biological condition that can be perpetuated by social and psychological factors...
Sharpe is one of around a dozen researchers in this field worldwide who are on the receiving end of a campaign to discredit their work. For many scientists, it's a new normal: From climate change to vaccines, activism and science are fighting it out online. Social media platforms are supercharging the battle. Reuters contacted a dozen professors, doctors and researchers with experience of analysing or testing potential treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. All said they had been the target of online harassment because activists objected to their findings. Only two had definite plans to continue researching treatments. With as many as 17 million people worldwide suffering this disabling illness, scientific research into possible therapies should be growing, these experts said, not dwindling. What concerns them most, they said, is that patients could lose out if treatment research stalls.
Sharpe says he's no longer researching treatments, because "It's just too toxic." And he tells Reuters that other researchers appear to be reaching the same conclusion.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's there-is-no-try department
Five candidates now are running to be Debian's project leader for the coming year. But earlier this week, Slashdot reader Seven Spirals shared LWN's story about what a difficult election it's been:
This year, the call for nominations was duly sent out by project secretary Kurt Roeckx on March 3. But, as of March 10, no eligible candidates had put their names forward... There is nobody there to do any campaigning.
This being Debian, the constitution naturally describes what is to happen in this situation: the nomination period is extended for another week... Should this deadline also pass without candidates, it will be extended for another week; this loop will repeat indefinitely until somebody gives in and submits their name... In the absence of a project leader, the chair of the technical committee and the project secretary are empowered to make decisions -- as long as they are able to agree on what those decisions should be. Since Debian developers are famously an agreeable and non-argumentative bunch, there should be no problem with that aspect of things...
One might well wonder, though, why there seems to be nobody who wants to take the helm of this project for a year. The fact that it is an unpaid position requiring a lot of time and travel might have something to do with it. If that were indeed to prove to be part of the problem, Debian might eventually have to consider doing what a number of similar organizations have done and create a paid position to do this work.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's feeling-unlucky department
Medium's technology publication ran a 3,600-word investigation into a mystery that began when a 66-year-old New York woman Googled directions to her neighborhood, "and found that the app had changed the name of her community..."
It's just as well no one contacted Google, because Google wasn't the company that renamed the Fruit Belt to Medical Park. When residents investigated, they found the misnomer repeated on several major apps and websites including HERE, Bing, Uber, Zillow, Grubhub, TripAdvisor, and Redfin... Monica Stephens, a geographer at the University at Buffalo who studies digital maps and misinformation, immediately suspected the geographic clearinghouse Pitney Bowes. Founded in 1920 as a maker of postage meters -- the machines that stamp mail with proof it's been sent -- Pitney Bowes expanded into neighborhood data in 2016 when it bought the leading U.S. provider, Maponics. In its 15-year run, Maponics had supplied neighborhood data to companies from Airbnb to Twitter to the Houston Chronicle. And it had also just acquired a longtime competitor, Urban Mapping, which has previously supplied Facebook, Microsoft, MapQuest, Yahoo, and Apple. Though Pitney Bowes is far from a household name, the $3.4 billion data broker is "a huge company at this point," says Stephens, with enough influence to inadvertently rename a neighborhood across hundreds of sites...
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Clinton-administration department
"Last month it was discovered that WinRAR, software used to open .zip archive files, has been vulnerable for the last 19 years to a bug that's easily exploited by hackers and malware distributors," writes SlashGear. Slashdot reader Iwastheone quotes their report:
Check Point, the security researchers that revealed the WinRAR bug, explain that the software is exploited by giving malicious files a RAR extension, so that when opened they can automatically extract malware programs. These programs are installed in a PC's startup folder, allowing them to start running anytime the computer is turned on, all without the user's knowledge.
Once the bug was disclosed, however, hacker groups really began using it to their advantage, with various nations becoming the target of state-backed cyber-espionage campaigns attempting to collect intelligence. The latest comes from McAfee, the software security firm, which notes that it has identified over 100 unique exploits that use the WinRAR bug, most of them targeting the U.S.
WinRar 5.70, released in late January, patches the behavior, but "it must be manually downloaded and installed from the website, leaving most users unaware of the critical update," the article warns.
It also estimates that during the last 19 years WinRar has been downloaded over 500 million times.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's social-anxiety department
Munky101 tipped us off to some interesting comments from New York's activist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. TechCrunch reports:
It's impossible to discuss the seismic shift toward automation without a conversation about job loss. Opponents of these technologies criticize a displacement that could someday result in wide-scale unemployment among what is often considered "unskilled" roles. Advocates, meanwhile, tend to suggest that reports of that nature tend to be overstated. Workforces shift, as they have done for time immemorial. During a conversation at SXSW this week, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered another take entirely.
"We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work," she said in an answer reported by The Verge. "We should be excited by that. But the reason we're not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don't have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem... We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in," The Verge quoted Ocasio-Cortez as saying. "Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage."
And Ocasio-Cortez cited Bill Gates' suggestion (first floated in a presentation on Quartz) that a robot tax might be a way to make that vision real. "What [Gates is] really talking about is taxing corporations," she reportedly said. "But it's easier to say: 'tax a robot.' "
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's dark-days department
What caused a devastating five-day blackout in Venezuela? Two engineers with expertise in geospatial technologies believe the answer lies in images from a NASA weather satellite showing thermal activity, which they superimposed onto Google Earth, the AP reports:
Within hours of the attack, the government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro began accusing the U.S. of a cyberattack. Maduro has stuck to that narrative, saying hackers in the U.S. first shut down the Guri Dam and then delivered several "electromagnetic" blows. Engineers have questioned that assertion, contending that the Guri Dam's operating system is on a closed network with no internet connection.
Several consulted by The Associated Press speculated that a more likely cause was a fire along one of the electrical grid's powerful 765-kilovolt lines that connect the dam to much of Venezuela. The transmission lines traverse through some of Venezuela's most remote and difficult to access regions on their way toward Caracas, making it difficult to obtain any first-hand information that could back up or pinpoint the location of a fire. Working with an expert at Texas Tech University's Geospatial Technologies Laboratory, Jose Aguilar, an expert on Venezuela's electrical grid, said satellite data indicates that on the day of the blackout there were three fires in close proximity to the 765-kilovolt lines transmitting power generated from the Guri Dam, which provides about 80 percent of Venezuela's electricity...
Engineers have warned for years that Venezuela's state-run electricity corporation was failing to properly maintain power lines, letting brush that can catch fire during Venezuela's hot, dry months grow near and up the towering structures.Read Replies (0)