By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Parents who possess the resolve to separate their children from their smartphones may be helping their kids' brainpower, a new study suggests. A report adds: Children who use smartphones and other devices in their free time for fewer than two hours a day performed better on cognitive tests assessing their thinking, language, and memory, according to a study published this week in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The study assessed the behavior of 4,500 children, ages 8 to 11, by looking at their sleep schedules, how much time they spent on screens and their amount of exercise, and analyzed how those factors impacted the children's mental abilities. The researchers compared the results with national guidelines for children's health. The guidelines recommend that children in that age group, get at least an hour of physical activity, no more than two hours of recreational screen time and nine to 11 hours of sleep per night. The researchers found that only 5 percent of children met all three recommendations. Sixty-three percent of children spent more than two hours a day staring at screens, failing to meet the screen-time limit.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
After more than a century of slicing tiny, inflamed organs from people's guts, doctors have found that surgery may not be necessary after all -- a simple course of antibiotics can be just as effective at treating appendicitis as going under the knife. From a report: The revelation comes from a large, randomized trial out of Finland, published Tuesday, September 25, in JAMA. Despite upending a long-held standard of care, the study's finding is not entirely surprising; it follows several other randomized trials over the years that had carved out evidence that antibiotics alone can treat an acute appendicitis. Those studies, however, left some dangling questions, including if the antibiotics just improved the situation temporarily and if initial drug treatments left patients worse off later if they did need surgery. The new JAMA study, with its full, five-year follow-up, effectively cauterised those remaining issues. Nearly two-thirds of the patients randomly assigned in the study to get antibiotics for an uncomplicated appendicitis didn't end up needing surgery in the follow-up time, the Finnish authors, based at the University of Turku, report. And those drug-treated patients that did end up getting an appendectomy later were not worse off for the delay in surgery. "This long-term follow-up supports the feasibility of antibiotic treatment alone as an alternative to surgery for uncomplicated acute appendicitis," the authors conclude. The finding suggests that many appendicitis patients could be spared the risks of surgical procedures, such as infections.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's man-speaks department
Linus Torvalds oversees every line of code added to the Linux kernel, but in recent years the male-dominated community has become increasingly divided, reports BBC. Rows about sexism and rudeness led to the creation of a Code of Conflict (CoC) in 2015 which was short -- simply recommending people "be excellent to each other." That has now been replaced by a more detailed Code of Conduct -- which retains the acronym, but attempts to be more inclusive and eliminate insulting and derogatory comments and behaviour. Reader sinij writes: Recently Linux Community adopted a new controversial Code of Conduct authored by Contributor Covenant also known for authoring the Post-Meritocracy Manifesto. In an exclusive email interview with the BBC, Mr Torvalds shared his thoughts on his decision to temporarily step aside, the controversy behind the CoC, and the defects of the community he set up. His thoughts on CoC: The advantage of concentrating on technology is that you can have some mostly objective measures, and some basis for agreement, and you can have a very nice and healthy community around it all. I really am motivated by the technology, but the community around Linux has been a big positive too. But there are very tangible and immediate common goals in any technical project like Linux, and while there is occasionally disagreement about how to solve some particular issue, there is a very real cohesive force in that common goal of improving the project. And even when there are disagreements, people in the end often have fairly clear and objective measures of what is better. Code that is faster, simpler, or handles more cases naturally is just objectively 'better', without people really having to argue too much about it. In contrast, the arguments about behaviour never seem to end up having a common goal. Except, in some sense, the argument itself. Have you read the Twitter feeds and other things by the people who seem to care more about the non-technical side? I think your 'hyped stories' is about as polite as you can put it. It's a morass of nastiness. Instead of a 'common goal', you end up with horrible fighting between different 'in-groups'. It's very polarising, and both sides love egging the other side on. It's not even a 'discussion', it's just people shouting at each other. That's actually the reason I for the longest time did not want to be involved with the whole CoC discussion in the first place. That whole subject seems to very easily just devolve and become unproductive. And I found a lot of the people who pushed for a CoC and criticised me for cursing to be hypocritical and pointless. I could easily point you to various tweet storms by people who criticise my 'white cis male' behaviour, while at the same time cursing more than I ever do. So that's my excuse for dismissing a lot of the politically correct concerns for years. I felt it wasn't worth it. Anybody who uses the words 'white cis male privilege' was simply not worth my time even talking to, I felt. "And I'm still not apologising for my gender or the colour of my skin, or the fact that I happen to have the common sexual orientation. What changed? Maybe it was me, but I was also made very aware of some of the behaviour of the 'other' side in the discussion. Because I may have my reservations about excessive political correctness, but honestly, I absolutely do not want to be seen as being in the same camp as the low-life scum on the internet that think it's OK to be a white nationalist Nazi, and have some truly nasty misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic behaviour. And those people were complaining about too much political correctness too, and in the process just making my public stance look bad. And don't get me wrong, please -- I'm not making excuses for some of my own rather strong language. But I do claim that it never ever was any of that kind of nastiness. I got upset with bad code, and people who made excuses for it, and used some pretty strong language in the process. Not good behaviour, but not the racist/etc claptrap some people spout. So in the end, my 'I really don't want to be too PC' stance simply became untenable. Partly because you definitely can find some emails from me that were simply completely unacceptable, and I need to fix that going forward. But to a large degree also because I don't want to be associated with a lot of the people who complain about excessive political correctness.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's well-rounded department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Rice University scientists have developed micron-sized calcium silicate spheres that could lead to stronger and greener concrete, the world's most-used synthetic material. The researchers formed the spheres in a solution around nanoscale seeds of a common detergent-like surfactant. The spheres can be prompted to self-assemble into solids that are stronger, harder, more elastic and more durable than ubiquitous Portland cement. He said the spheres are suitable for bone-tissue engineering, insulation, ceramic and composite applications as well as cement. The research appears in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.
In tests, the researchers used two common surfactants to make spheres and compressed their products into pellets for testing. They learned that DTAB-based pellets compacted best and were tougher, with a higher elastic modulus, than either CTAB pellets or common cement. They also showed high electrical resistance. [Rice materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari] said the size and shape of particles in general have a significant effect on the mechanical properties and durability of bulk materials like concrete. He said increasing the strength of cement allows manufacturers to use less concrete, decreasing not only weight but also the energy required to make it and the carbon emissions associated with cement's manufacture. Because spheres pack more efficiently than the ragged particles found in common cement, the resulting material will be more resistant to damaging ions from water and other contaminants and should require less maintenance and less-frequent replacement.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ambitious-plans department
"On Wednesday, a Japanese company called ispace announced that it has two missions planned to the Moon within the next three years and that it has acquired ride-share launches on two Falcon 9 rockets to carry out those flights," reports Ars Technica. "The company's founder, Takeshi Hakamada, also said he has a long-term vision to have a city on the Moon visited by 10,000 people a year by 2040." From the report: The two missions ispace announced Wednesday are an orbiter launch in mid-2020 and a more complicated lander-and-rover mission a year later. Both will be secondary payloads on Falcon 9 rocket launches, being released by the rocket's second stage in geostationary transfer orbit. From there, they will proceed to the Moon under their own propulsive power.
During a teleconference with several reporters, Hakamada said the company hopes to demonstrate to potential customers the initial capability to deliver 30kg of payload to the lunar surface. But he also has longer-term plans that will allow it to serve customers seeking to reach the lunar surface with larger payloads. Plus, the company is developing the capability to mine ice from the lunar poles to convert the hydrogen and oxygen into rocket fuel. "Around 2030 we expect to begin developing propellant and sending it to spacecraft in space," Hakamada said. He hopes that by then, there will be several hundred people working on the Moon, or in lunar orbit, to support an industrial base. A decade later, by 2040, he envisions a city called "Moon Valley" on the lunar surface, with a diverse array of industries and thousands of visitors per year. "We believe we can establish such a world if we can actively develop our capability in the current speed," Hakamada said.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's strategic-partnerships department
A group called the Bandwidth Alliance, being led by Cloudflare, promises to reduce the price of bandwidth for many cloud customers. "The overall idea here is that customers who use both Cloudflare, which is turning eight years old this week, and a cloud provider that's part of this alliance will get a significant discount on their egress traffic or won't have to pay for it at all," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The alliance is open, and others may join still, but right now it includes virtually every major and minor cloud provider you've ever heard of -- with one exception. Current members include Automattic, Backblaze, Digital Ocean, DreamHost, IBM Cloud, Linode, Google, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Packet, Scaleway and Vapor. Some of these will now offer free egress traffic to mutual customers with Cloudflare, while others will offer at least a 75 percent discount.
Why would these businesses choose to do away with what's a minor but high-margin business, though? "The argument that we made to them was a pretty simple argument: it makes sense for you to charge for transit when you are actually paying for it," [Cloudflare CEO and co-founder Matthew Prince] said. Most of the time, though, those costs are very minor and Cloudflare, thanks to his massive number of global peering locations, can ingest the traffic directly from the cloud provider with no middlemen involved.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's safety-first department
A new study by AAA found that most drivers don't understand the limitations of advanced safety technology installed on their new vehicles. "The study indicates that drivers overestimate the capabilities of features such as blind-spot monitoring systems, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control," reports USA Today. "The findings raise questions about whether Americans are ready to adapt to partially self-driving vehicles, which typically require drivers to remain alert and ready to take over the steering wheel if the car can't handle the conditions it encounters." Here are the problem spots flagged by AAA:
- Blind-spot monitoring: Nearly 80 percent of drivers don't understand the limitations or thought that the system had greater capability to detect fast-approaching vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Relying too much on blind-spot monitoring, about 25 percent don't look for oncoming vehicles when they change lanes.
- Forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking: Many drivers confuse the two. One is a warning system, while the other takes action. More than 40 percent of drivers don't know these limitations.
- Adaptive cruise control: About 29 percent of drivers who use this system, which accelerates and brakes on its own, are sometimes comfortable "engaging in other activities" while the system is activated, according to the study. The researchers did note that these safety features can prevent about 40 percent of crashes and 30 percent of crash deaths.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-and-improved department
Facebook's Oculus has announced its new $399 standalone virtual-reality headset that's scheduled to launch in the spring of 2019. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that "with Oculus Quest, we will complete our first generation of Oculus products," adding that the Oculus Quest combines "the key attributes of the ideal VR system" -- a wireless design, virtual hand controllers, and full positional tracking. The Verge reports: The Oculus Quest is a consumer version of what was previously known as Project Santa Cruz. It uses motion controllers similar to Oculus Touch, and four wide-angle cameras provide positional tracking that lets people walk through virtual space. It's supposed to support "Rift-quality" experiences, with a starting catalog of over 50 titles, including well-known existing games like climbing simulator The Climb and adventure-puzzle game Moss.
Oculus Quest essentially combines the high-end, tethered Oculus Rift headset with the relatively cheap, standalone Oculus Go device that was released earlier this year. It uses the same optics as the Oculus Go, with a resolution of 1600 x 1440 per eye, but with the option to adjust lens spacing. Also like the Oculus Go, the Oculus Quest includes built-in speakers that pipe sound into users' ears, but supposedly with improved bass. But unlike the Oculus Go, you can walk around, apparently for large distances. Barra describes it as having "arena-scale" tracking that supports at least 4,000 square feet of space. Its controllers have the same button layout as the Rift's Touch controllers, but with the half-moon tracking ring reversed, so it loops above your hands instead of below them.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's union-busting department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Amazon, the country's second-largest employer, has so far remained immune to any attempts by U.S. workers to form a union. With rumblings of employee organization at Whole Foods -- which Amazon bought for $13.7 billion last year -- a 45-minute union-busting training video produced by the company was sent to Team Leaders of the grocery chain last week, according to sources with knowledge of the store's activities. Recordings of that video, obtained by Gizmodo, provide valuable insight into the company's thinking and tactics. Each of the video's six sections, which the narrator states are "specifically designed to give you the tools that you need for success when it comes to labor organizing," take place in an animated simulacrum of a Fulfillment Center. The video's narrators are clad in the reflective vests typical of the real-world setting. "We are not anti-union, but we are not neutral either," the video states, drawing a distinction that would likely be largely academic to potential organizers.
To expound on what non-neutrality might look like, the video adds in plain language (emphasis ours): "We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or most importantly, our associates. Our business model is built upon speed, innovation, and customer obsession -- things that are generally not associated with union. When we lose sight of those critical focus areas we jeopardize everyone's job security: yours, mine, and the associates.'" Throughout, the video claims Amazon prefers a "direct management" structure where employees can bring grievances to their bosses individually, rather than union representation. However, a number of warehouse workers have expressed to Gizmodo in past reporting that they believed voicing their concerns led to retaliatory scrutiny or firing.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's trust-building department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Uber will pay $148 million to settle a nationwide investigation into a 2016 data breach (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), in which a hacker managed to gain access to information belonging to 57 million riders and drivers. The breach included names and driver's license numbers for 600,000 drivers. Rather than disclosing the breach when it occurred, Uber paid the hacker $100,000 through its bug bounty program. [...] The ride-hailing company persuaded him to delete the data and stay quiet about it with a nondisclosure agreement. The incident became public a year later when Uber's chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, announced it as a "failure" and fired the two employees who had signed off on the payment.
Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, said the settlement was part of a larger effort inside Uber to remake the company's image. He said the company had recently hired a chief privacy officer and a chief trust and security officer. The $148 million settlement announced Wednesday will be divided among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. "Companies in California and throughout the nation are entrusted with customers' valuable private information," Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, said. "This settlement broadcasts to all of them that we will hold them accountable to protect that data."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's interesting-moves department
Mozilla announced today a new recovery option for Firefox Accounts, the user system included inside the Firefox browser. ZDNet: Starting today, users can generate a one-time recover key that will be associated with their account, and which they can use to regain access to Firefox data if they ever forget their passwords. Firefox Accounts is included with all recent versions of the Firefox browser. Most users are familiar with it because of Firefox Sync, the system that synchronizes Firefox data such as passwords, browsing history, open tabs, bookmarks, installed add-ons, and general browser options between multiple Firefox instances. But while Sync does the actual synchronization, Firefox Accounts is at the core of Sync and is the system that manages the identities of Firefox users. Sync works by taking a user's Firefox account password and encrypting the user's browser data on the local computer.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department
A former Google employee has warned of the firm's "disturbing" plans in China, in a letter to US lawmakers. BBC: Jack Poulson, who had been a senior researcher at the company until resigning in August, wrote that he was fearful of Google's ambitions. His letter alleges Google's work on a Chinese product -- codenamed Dragonfly -- would aid Beijing's efforts to censor and monitor its citizens online. Google has said its work in China to date has been "exploratory." Ben Gomes, Google's head of search, told the BBC earlier this week: "Right now all we've done is some exploration, but since we don't have any plans to launch something there's nothing much I can say about it." A report by news site The Intercept last week alleged Google had demanded employees delete an internal memo that discussed the plans. Google has not commented on the staff row, but said: "We've been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools." It added: "We are not close to launching a search product in China." Mr Poulson's letter details several aspects of Google's work that had been reported in the press but never officially confirmed by the company. It was submitted to the Senate Commerce Committee, which held a hearing on Wednesday in Washington DC. Google's chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, faced questions from Senator Ted Cruz about the company's intentions to launch a new search engine in China. He confirmed the existence of the project.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's god-damn-it-facebook department
Kashmir Hill, reporting for Gizmodo: Last week, I ran an ad on Facebook targeted at a computer science professor named Alan Mislove. Mislove studies how privacy works on social networks and had a theory that Facebook is letting advertisers reach users with contact information collected in surprising ways. I was helping him test the theory by targeting him in a way Facebook had previously told me wouldn't work. I directed the ad to display to a Facebook account connected to the landline number for Alan Mislove's office, a number Mislove has never provided to Facebook. He saw the ad within hours. One of the many ways that ads get in front of your eyeballs on Facebook and Instagram is that the social networking giant lets an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file; it will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information. A clothing retailer can put an ad for a dress in the Instagram feeds of women who have purchased from them before, a politician can place Facebook ads in front of anyone on his mailing list, or a casino can offer deals to the email addresses of people suspected of having a gambling addiction. Facebook calls this a "custom audience." You might assume that you could go to your Facebook profile and look at your "contact and basic info" page to see what email addresses and phone numbers are associated with your account, and thus what advertisers can use to target you. But as is so often the case with this highly efficient data-miner posing as a way to keep in contact with your friends, it's going about it in a less transparent and more invasive way. [...] Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser. They came up with a novel way to detect whether that information became available to advertisers by looking at the stats provided by Facebook about the size of an audience after contact information is uploaded. They go into this in greater length and technical detail in their paper [PDF]. They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user's account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks. Officially, Facebook denies the existence of shadow profiles. In a hearing with the House Energy & Commerce Committee earlier this year, when New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg if he was aware of the so-called practice of building "shadow profiles", Zuckerberg denied knowledge of it.Read Replies (0)