By EditorDavid from Slashdot's jail-sentences department
Long-time Slashdot reader reporter shared this article from NPR:
The former chairman and two vice presidents of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. should spend five years in prison over the 2011 flooding and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japanese prosecutors say, accusing the executives of failing to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe. Prosecutors say the TEPCO executives didn't do enough to protect the nuclear plant, despite being told in 2002 that the Fukushima facility was vulnerable to a tsunami....
"It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly," prosecutors said on Wednesday, according to The Asahi Shimbun. "That led to the deaths of many people." Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78; former Vice President Ichiro Takekuro, 72; and former Vice President Sakae Muto, 68, face charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury....
All three have pleaded not guilty in Tokyo District Court, saying they could not have predicted the tsunami.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's who-was-that-masked-mannequin department
"In Japan, a robot may create a new way to mourn," reports one Colorado news team:
This robot is supposed to sound like a loved one. Now imagine the same robot having a 3D-printed mask of their face. You will be able to stay with that robot for 49 days which is the period of mourning after the funeral in Japan. That is the concept of Digital Shaman project, which uses a humanoid.
Users will have an interview with the artist while they're alive. Their physical characteristics and messages will be recorded then. After the user dies, the bereaved ones will be able to install the program into the robot. It mimics the deceased one's personality, speech, and gestures. The robot can imitate hand and head movements the person was making during the interview.... As unreal as it may seem, the artist is planning to sell digital shaman to the public in the future.
People may wonder if the creator is planning to allow the deceased to live forever through the program. She's not. "I think it will seriously hinder those left behind to move on." We live in a digital world. And now a robot has brought together "IT technology" and "Death".
It's part of a larger research project on Japanese funeral rites, and one of a series of works on "digital shamanism" that "attempt to blend Japanese folk beliefs with technology."
An artist's statement calls it "a new mode of mourning in keeping with the technical advances of today."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's browser-battles department
An anonymous reader quotes Neowin:
Every time Microsoft releases a Windows 10 feature update, it runs some efficiency tests to prove that its Edge browser is significantly faster than the competition, which includes Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Then the company posts the detailed results on its Windows blog and YouTube channel, boasting about the power efficiency of its browser. Even though the company still has run battery tests, it has remained strangely silent about them, posting about it on GitHub only. While many thought that Microsoft's silence on the matter was due to Edge finally losing to the competition, it appears that this is not the case.
As spotted by Paul Thurrott, Microsoft has indeed run efficiency tests for Edge in Windows 10 version 1809, pitting it against the likes of Firefox and Chrome. Through these tests, the company has concluded that Edge lasts 24% longer than Chrome and a massive 94% longer than Firefox on average.
"While Edge appears to have won these efficiency tests easily as well, it is likely that the company did not decide to promote this achievement -- as it has always done previously -- because of the planned abandonment of EdgeHTML in favor of Chromium," the article concludes.
"It will be very interesting to see if Microsoft Edge is able to maintain its battery advantage once the switch to Chromium is complete."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's proving-you're-human department
Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo shared this article from New York magazine:
In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered... Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to "spoofed" websites.... [B]ots "faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers." Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites -- the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.
How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was "bots masquerading as people," a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube's systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event "the Inversion...."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's prime-numbers department
An anonymous reader quotes MIT's Technology Review:
Silicon Valley loves the idea of universal basic income. Many in the tech elites tout it as the answer to job losses caused by automation, if only people would give it a chance.... Getting people on board with basic income requires data, which is what numerous tests have been trying to obtain. But this year, a number of experiments were cut short, delayed, or ended after a short time. That also means the possible data supply got cut off.
Back in June we declared, "Basic income could work -- if you do it Canada style." We talked to the people on the ground getting the checks in Ontario's 4,000-person test and saw how it was changing the community. Then, just two months later, it was announced that the program is ending in the new year rather than running for three years. The last checks will be delivered to participants in March 2019.
The article complains that in addition, Finland's test program ended this year after its initial trial period, while Y Combinator's experiment "has also faced more delays, pushing the experiment into 2019," saying these programs illustrate the three basic issues faced by basic income tests. First, there's political disagreements. ("The Ontario program was shut down by the province's newly installed Conservative government.") Then there's also concerns about funding -- "As you might imagine, giving away free money is expensive" -- and also fears about disrupting existing benefits "To avoid that, they've had to work with municipal and state agencies to get waivers for pilot recipients. But getting those waivers takes a lot of time and bureaucracy....
"The only way the idea can ever be embraced on any sort of large-scale, meaningful level is with more data and bigger tests. Without that, no matter how much support it gets from Silicon Valley, it seems unlikely that the public, at least in the US, will ever come around."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's crashing-the-party department
Wave723 quotes IEEE Spectrum: On New Year's Eve, millions of people will use Facebook's Messenger app to wish friends and family a 'Happy New Year!' If everything goes smoothly, those messages will reach recipients in fewer than 100 milliseconds, and life will go on. But if the service stalls or fails, a small team of software engineers based in the company's New York City office will have to answer for it.
The article says the team "tested and tweaked the app throughout the year and will soon face their biggest annual performance exam," since Messenger's 1.3 billion monthly active users send more messages on New Year's Eve than any other day of the year. Many of them hit "send" at the exact moment when their clock strikes midnight, "and people often try to resend messages that don't appear to make it through right away, which piles on more requests."
The solution appears to be load testing, re-directing traffic, message batching, and discarding "read receipts" and temporarily disabling other minor Facebook functions -- or, more generally, what their engineering manager describes as "graceful degradation."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's unhappy-New-Year department
"What's the worst that can happen?" thought Nicko Feinberg last December when he listed his house on Airbnb.
The listing explicitly said no parties. Then a request came through to book the house for one night on New Year's Day. It was from a young man, probably in his early 20s. He had one review but it was terrific.... I picked up my boys and we stayed down the road at my mother's apartment... When I got back [the next day] I saw three or four cars in the driveway. I threw my food down and knew I was screwed. Inside there were about 12 young adults, all trying to clean.
The floors looked like someone had poured Jagermeister and champagne everywhere and then danced on them. Everything seemed wrong: my artwork was not on the walls; there was furniture missing; the glass panel on my staircase was shattered; even the floor didn't seem level any more. Then I noticed they were using my best sheets and towels as mops....I told them no one was leaving and I called the police and Airbnb. When a police officer turned up, he said it was a civil matter, before adding: "We were here last night...."
Ultimately, it was just stuff and I knew it would be OK. But I felt a massive disappointment in humanity. That night, it wasn't hard for me and my boys to find Instagram pictures and videos of the party. It was horrifying to see so many people in the house, jumping up and down on the furniture and windowsills. They broke my hot tub and tiles in the bathroom; when I looked in the rubbish bags, I saw all my drinks bottles empty, as well as broken glasses and towels. I found an image online of the invite that said, "Mansion Party" with my address. There had been 300 people there. Boys were charged to enter; girls got in free.
While he won't disclose what Airbnb paid him for the damage, "a year later repairs are continuing. The floor is still uneven." But he told one local news channel that the damage was over $100,000, adding "There's footprints on my bathroom walls."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's notifications-waiting department
Three-quarters of Canadians own smartphones-- and 94% of 15- to 34-year-olds. But this week the Globe and Mail profiled "digital refuseniks" who are "deliberately logging off -- and they say it's done wonders for their imaginations and peace of mind."
They are hidden among us, neither jobless nor friendless, and living quite happily. Cut off from Uber, yet somehow thriving. For example, Tony North does not live for his smartphone, because he's never had one. "I just didn't want to get into the habit of distraction," he says simply, in an interview conducted over landline from his home in Paris, Ontario. The high-school teacher spends about 20 minutes a day [on his laptop] on his one social-media platform, Facebook, which he uses to keep in touch with family back home in Australia. In fact, you could blame Australia for Mr. North's desire to be digitally unleashed: He remembers leaving home to travel overseas, and the wonderful feeling of being uncontactable that came with it. "It was such a feeling of freedom, and I guess I wanted to keep a bit of that."
As a teacher of English and drama, Mr. North, 53, is worried about the consequences of teenagers' near-constant devotion to their online lives (his own two children, 12 and 13 years old, do not have phones). In drama class, he makes his students put away their phones and engage in face-to-face exercises: "I'm basically forcing them to interact," he says. "When I ask for evaluations at the end of the semester, it's one of the things they most seem to appreciate...." Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 spend nearly five hours a day online, according to a 2017 survey from Media Technology Monitor... "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" the Atlantic magazine asked last year in a cover story designed to keep parents up at night, frozen in the blue light of further bad news.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's taking-licenses department
YouTube's controversial year-end "Rewind" video has become "the most-loathed video in the entire history of YouTube," reports Inc., adding that with 14 million down votes, it now "might just be the most-hated video anybody ever posted anywhere."
"But then came Christmas Day, and YouTube apparently managed to top its own blunder."
How? By uploading a promo video wishing viewers a Merry Christmas on Twitter. The problem: YouTube allegedly didn't own the video. Instead, it copied a YouTube user's video and reposted it as its own, without so much as offering credit....The only real difference between the version of video that YouTuber Lily Hevesh created and uploaded to YouTube, and the one that YouTube reportedly passed off as its own work in a post on Twitter is that YouTube's version on Twitter skipped the opening 20 seconds. That would be the part in which Hevesh, who describes herself as a "domino artist," shared her logo and a short clip of herself setting up the dominoes.
Hevesh caught what YouTube had apparently done about 14 hours after the post, and tweeted a response: "Very glad to see that my Christmas domino e-card is getting good use. However, I'm a bit disappointed that YouTube would take my video and re-upload it with absolutely no credit. People rip off my work everyday and it's honestly saddening to see this happen by YouTube itself...." Even if money weren't involved, YouTube's own terms of service and copyright page seem to ban exactly what it looks like was done here. It's a mess.
In the end, YouTube owned up to its mistake -- well, partway anyway. It tweeted a follow-up on the day after Christmas, acknowledging that they "forgot to credit @Hevesh5 for this video!" and linking to Hevesh's YouTube page.
The Verge points out that YouTube "does own a limited license to people's videos, so legally, the company can take Hevesh's content and upload it to its Twitter account. The problem is ethical....
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's watching-your-clothes department
"It's as dystopian as it sounds," opines The Verge:
Chinese schools are now tracking the exact location of their students using chip-equipped "smart uniforms" in order to encourage better attendance rates, according to a report from state-run newspaper The Global Times. Each uniform has two chips in the shoulders which are used to track when and where the students enter or exit the school, with an added dose of facial recognition software at the entrances to make sure that the right student is wearing the right outfit (so you can't just have your friend, say, wear an extra shirt while you go off and play hooky). Try to leave during school hours? An alarm will go off....
There are additional features, too, according to a report from The Epoch Times: the chips can apparently detect when a student has fallen asleep in class, and allow students to make payments (using additional facial or fingerprint recognition to confirm the purchase). The uniforms are being used in 10 schools in China's Guizhou Province region, and apparently have been in use for some time -- according to Lin Zongwu, principal of No. 11 School of Renhuai, over 800 students in his school have been wearing the smart uniforms since 2016.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's altered-states department
If you've been dreaming of moonlight in Vermont -- and getting a re-location subsidy -- "the time has come to make your maple-syrup-coated dreams a reality," reports Fast Company:
[F]or those who relocate this year and can prove that they have full-time remote jobs, it's possible to get paid back for moving expenses, internet bills, or membership in a coworking space... The program offers up to $5,000 a year for two years.
For the state, the program is one way to try to address its shrinking population. "We're the second-to-smallest state in the nation, and we're also getting older, so we really need to make sure there's more of a workforce here," says Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, which is running the Remote Worker Grant Program. The entire state has a population of a little more than 600,000, roughly the size of Louisville, Kentucky.
Vermont also recognized that a growing number of Americans work remotely -- nearly two-thirds of companies today have remote workers, and one recent survey found that hiring managers think it will continue to become even more common -- and that many city dwellers elsewhere are struggling with rent on increasingly overpriced apartments... The median home value in Brattleboro, roughly two hours from Boston, is less than $200,000; a one-bedroom apartment a short walk from the local co-op (and a small coworking space) goes for $850 a month.
The budget for 2019 is $125,000, and will be given out "on a first come, first served basis."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fistful-of-euros department
Julia Reda is a member of Germany's Pirate Party, a member of the European Parliament, and the Vice-President of The Greens-European Free Alliance.
Thursday her official web site announced:
In 2014, security vulnerabilities were found in important Free Software projects. One of the issues was found in the Open Source encryption library OpenSSL.... The issue made lots of people realise how important Free and Open Source Software is for the integrity and reliability of the Internet and other infrastructure.... That is why my colleague Max Andersson and I started the Free and Open Source Software Audit project: FOSSA... In 2017, the project was extended for three more years. This time, we decided to go one step further and added the carrying out of Bug Bounties on important Free Software projects to the list of measures we wanted to put in place to increase the security of Free and Open Source Software...
In January the European Commission is launching 14 out of a total of 15 bug bounties on Free Software projects that the EU institutions rely on.
The bounties start at 25.000,00 € -- about $29,000 USD -- rising as high as 90.000,00 € ($103,000). "The amount of the bounty depends on the severity of the issue uncovered and the relative importance of the software," Reda writes. Click through for a list of the software projects for which bug bounties will be offered.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's dee-dee-dee-dah-dee-dah-doh-doh department
The CBC is marking the 20th anniversary of the notorious Hampsterdance web site with a 10,000-word oral history by arts reporter Leah Collins, promising "the twisted true story of one of the world's first memes."
An anonymous reader writes:
Deidre LaCarte, a Canadian martial arts instructor, created the site as part of a contest between her friend and her sister to see whose site could attract the most visitors by December 31st, 1998. Deidre won -- then remembers later waking up to news crews at her front door asking about that web site she'd created that had become a worldwide phenomenon. Slashdot's CmdrTaco linked to the site on February 9th, 1999, and hundreds of millions of pageviews later the CBC traces the site's evolution into Hampsterdance -- the Album, which included the less-remembered rock song "Hampster Party." (Recorded under a pseudonym by The Boomtang Boys, it was described by the Onion A.V. Club as "the definitive hamster party anthem of the new millennium," in their year-end retrospective "Least Essential Albums of 2000.")
The CBC also interviewed members from a competing U.K. band that created knock-off versions of the site's hamster-y song for their own hit record, Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia. The Canadian hamster band enjoyed some popularity on Disney radio -- one song even became Hannah Montana's ringtone, and Britney Spears reportedly expressed an interest in recording their soulful hamster ballad, "Life is Good." Hallmark also says they ultimately used hampsterdance songs in over 100 different products. But whatever happened to the web site itself?
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By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Catalin Cimpanu, writing for ZDNet: Every major user interface (UI) redesign project is a hit and miss game, and Google's new Chrome UI appears to be a colossal miss. Designed with mobile devices in mind, the new Chrome user interface style was officially rolled out in September this year, with the release of Chrome version 69. Not all users liked the new UI, and this was clear from the beginning, with some users voicing their discontent online even back then. However, those users who didn't appreciate the new lighter-toned Chrome interface had the option to visit the chrome://flags page and modify a Chrome setting and continue using Chrome's older UI.
But with Chrome version 71, released earlier this month, Google has removed the Chrome flag that allowed users to use the old UI. As you might imagine, this change did not go well, at all. Chrome's new UI might have been developed with a mobile-first approach in mind, but the UI is problematic on laptops and desktops, where its lighter tone and rounded tabs make it extremely hard to distinguish tabs from one another, especially when users open multiple tabs. Since being able to distinguish and switch between tabs at a fast pace is an important detail in most of today's internet-based jobs, many users have been having trouble adapting to the new UI both at work and at home, especially if they're the kind of people who deal with tens of tabs at the same time.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department
An anonymous reader writes: Three co-creators of the MIT-incubated Julia programming language are the recipients of the 2019 James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software. With origins in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Department of Mathematics, Julia is a programming language created in 2009 by Jeff Bezanson PhD '15, former MIT Julia Lab researchers Stefan Karpinski, and Viral B. Shah, and professor of mathematics Alan Edelman. The prize will be awarded to Bezanson, Karpinski, and Shah "for the creation of Julia, an innovative environment for the creation of high-performance tools that enable the analysis and solution of computational science problems."
Released publicly in 2012, Julia has over 3 million downloads and is used in over 1,500 universities for scientific and numerical computing. "I am proud of the intellectual contributions of the Julia Lab, which applies the latest in computer science to science and engineering problems, while engaging interdisciplinary collaborations all over campus and beyond," said Edelman. "Julia is increasingly the language of instruction for scientific computing at MIT."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Researchers at Google's AI labs created a couple of novel neural networks that can succeed in navigating web forms, such as an online flight-booking site. Although baby steps at the moment, the program succeeds as well or better than some models trained using human demonstrations of pointing and clicking. From a report: In a new paper from the team, they trained a neural network to understand the structure of web pages and the choices it can make when filling out forms in an airline ticket booker, or interacting with a social media site. The work broadly employs the same category of machine learning as Google's Go-winning AlphaZero software, what is known as "reinforcement learning." In RL, a neural network develops strategies of steps to take at each stage of trying to solve a problem as it receives rewards for good choices. The researchers figured out a way to train a neural network without being given human examples of how to navigate an online booking form. The approach makes the task of learning webpages and social media networks more "scalable," they write, where the possible combinations of states and actions can reach into the tens of millions. The point is not necessarily to actually book a flight; it's more an exercise in how a neural network can find solutions to a problem with numerous variables, where human guidance, or "supervision," in training is infeasible.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department
The Trump administration announced on Friday a plan designed to make it easier for coal-fired power plants, after nearly a decade of restrictions, to release into the atmosphere more mercury and other pollutants linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source].
From a report: The limits on mercury, set in 2011, were the first federal standards to restrict some of the most hazardous pollutants emitted by coal plants and were considered one of former President Barack Obama's signature environmental achievements. Since then, scientists have said, mercury pollution from power plants has declined more than 80 percent nationwide. President Trump's new proposal does not repeal the regulation, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but it would lay the groundwork for doing so by weakening a key legal justification for the measure. The long-term impact would be significant: It would weaken the ability of the E.P.A. to impose new regulations in the future by adjusting the way the agency measures the benefits of curbing pollutants, giving less weight to the potential health gains.
In announcing the proposed rule, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the cost of cutting mercury from power plants "dwarfs" the monetary benefits. The proposal, which the acting E.P.A. administrator, Andrew Wheeler, signed on Thursday, is expected to appear in the federal register in the coming weeks. The public will have 60 days to comment on it before a final rule is issued. [...] Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry, and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler's from his days as a lobbyist.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Over the last two years, we have heard numerous reports about Fuchsia, a new operating system for phones, computers, and just about everything else by Google. We've seen it in a variety of demos, all of which featured a UI, codenamed "Armadillo." Now it seems that Armadillo, and thus everything about Fuchsia we've "seen," has been removed. Reader Suren Enfiajyan shares a report: Everything we've known Fuchsia to look like falls under Armadillo. Last May, when we got our first look at Fuchsia UI, it was possible because Armadillo was simply a Flutter app that could be built to run on Android. After some months, we were also able to show off the first five minutes of Fuchsia UI on the Pixelbook using Fuchsia's screenshot tool, and we saw improvements to Armadillo, like Google Sign-In support. All in all, it was clear Fuchsia was shaping up to become a clean operating system that implements and extends Material Design. Unfortunately, none of the demos and examples are accurate anymore. With a recent code change, humorously titled "Armadillo fainted!", spotted by Redditor alawami, we've reached the end of an era. Every single piece of Armadillo code has now been permanently removed from Fuchsia's Topaz repo.Read Replies (0)