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Mozilla Thunderbird Outlines Plans For 2019: Addressing UI Lags, Performance Issues; Improved 3rd-Party Email Integration, Encryption Usability
Posted by News Fetcher on January 02 '19 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
For years, Mozilla has largely neglected development of Thunderbird, an email client it owns. But the company, which grew its team to eight staff last year, says it plans to address most of the issues that users have complained about and add six more people to Thunderbird staff this year, it said in a blog post. In the blog post Wednesday, the company said: Our hires are already addressing technical debt and doing a fair bit of plumbing when it comes to Thunderbird's codebase. Our new hires will also be addressing UI-slowness and general performance issues across the application. This is an area where I think we will see some of the best improvements in Thunderbird for 2019, as we look into methods for testing and measuring slowness -- and then put our engineers on architecting solutions to these pain points. Beyond that, we will be looking into leveraging new, faster technologies in rewriting parts of Thunderbird as well as working toward a multi-process Thunderbird.

[...] For instance, one area of usability that we are planning on addressing in 2019 is integration improvements in various areas. One of those in better Gmail support, as one of the biggest email providers it makes sense to focus some resources on this area. We are looking at addressing Gmail label support and ensuring that other features specific to the Gmail experience translate well into Thunderbird. We are looking at improving notifications in Thunderbird, by better integrating with each operating system's built-in notification system. By working on this feature Thunderbird will feel more "native" on each desktop and will make managing notifications from the app easier.

< article continued at Slashdot's up-next department >

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The Commerce Department is Considering National Security Restrictions on AI
Posted by News Fetcher on January 02 '19 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: A common belief among tech industry insiders is that Silicon Valley has dominated the internet because much of the worldwide network was designed and built by Americans. Now a growing number of those insiders are worried that proposed export restrictions could short-circuit the pre-eminence of American companies in the next big thing to hit their industry, artificial intelligence.

In November, the Commerce Department released a list of technologies, including artificial intelligence, that are under consideration for new export rules because of their importance to national security. Technology experts worry that blocking the export of A.I. to other countries, or tying it up in red tape, will help A.I. industries flourish in those nations -- China, in particular -- and compete with American companies.

"The number of cases where exports can be sufficiently controlled are very, very, very small, and the chance of making an error is quite large," said Jack Clark, head of policy at OpenAI, an artificial intelligence lab in San Francisco. "If this goes wrong, it could do real damage to the A.I. community." The export controls are being considered as the United States and China engage in a trade war. The Trump administration has been critical of the way China negotiates deals with American companies, often requiring the transfer of technology to Chinese partners as the cost of doing business in the country. And federal officials are making an aggressive argument that China has stolen American technology through hacking and industrial espionage.

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Why the West Coast Is Suddenly Beating the East Coast on Transportation
Posted by News Fetcher on January 02 '19 at 07:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
The subways on the East Coast that allowed New York, Washington and Boston to thrive are showing their age and suffering from years of neglect, while cities on the West Coast are moving quickly to expand and improve their networks. From a report: The Los Angeles area, the ultimate car-centric region with its sprawling freeways, approved a sweeping $120 billion plan to build new train routes and upgrade its buses. Seattle has won accolades for its transit system, where 93 percent of riders report being happy with service -- a feat that seems unimaginable in New York, where subway riders regularly simmer with rage on stalled trains. "It's a tale of two systems," said Robert Puentes, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan research center in Washington. "These new ones are growing and haven't started to experience the pains of rehabilitation."

In New York, Polly Trottenberg, New York City's transportation commissioner, returned to a laundry list of messes: a subway crisis, buses that move at a snail's pace, the looming shutdown of the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the rebuilding of the dilapidated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. "There is a political will to invest in expansion" on the West Coast, Ms. Trottenberg said in an interview, though she noted that New York's system was still the country's largest by far. Its daily subway and bus ridership of nearly 8 million dwarfs Los Angeles's 1.2 million riders. Still, transit systems on the East Coast are losing ridership. New York's subway has not expanded in decades, besides a handful of new stations in Manhattan -- one on the Far West Side and three on the Upper East Side.

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Popular App Weather Forecast Collects Too Much User Data and is Attempting To Subscribe Some Users To Paid Services Without Permission
Posted by News Fetcher on January 02 '19 at 07:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's privacy-woes department:
A popular weather app built by a Chinese tech conglomerate has been collecting an unusual amount of data from smartphones around the world and attempting to subscribe some users to paid services without permission, according to a London-based security firm's research.

From a report: The free app, one of the world's most-downloaded weather apps in Google's Play store, is from TCL Communication Technology Holdings, of Shenzhen, China. TCL makes Alcatel- and BlackBerry -branded phones, while a sister company makes televisions. The app, called "Weather Forecast --World Weather Accurate Radar," collects data including smartphone users' geographic locations, email addresses and unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers on TCL servers in China, according to Upstream Systems, the mobile commerce and security firm that found the activity. Until last month, the app was known as "Weather -- Simple weather forecast."

The weather app also has attempted to surreptitiously subscribe more than 100,000 users of its low-cost Alcatel smartphones in countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Nigeria to paid virtual-reality services, according to Upstream Systems. The security firm, which discovered the activity as part of its work for mobile operators, said users would have been billed more than $1.5 million had it not blocked the attempts.

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Google Wins US Approval For Radar-Based Hand Motion Sensor
Posted by News Fetcher on January 02 '19 at 03:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
Alphabet's Google unit has won the approval from U.S. regulators to deploy a radar-based motion sensing device known as Project Soli. From a report: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in an order late on Monday that it would grant Google a waiver to operate the Soli sensors at higher power levels than currently allowed. The FCC said the sensors can also be operated aboard aircraft. The FCC said the decision "will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology." The FCC said the Soli sensor captures motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of functions or features that can benefit users with mobility or speech impairments.

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A Flexible Way To Convert Waste Heat To Electricity
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 09:40 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
A research group in Japan has developed an inexpensive, large-scale and flexible thermoelectric generator (FlexTEG) that has high mechanical reliability and can convert heat into electricity efficiently. The findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

From a report: Thermoelectric conversion is one of the most attractive techniques for converting low-temperature (150C or lower) waste heat into electric power. However, widespread adoption of this technology has been hampered by a lack of suitable packaging techniques for thermoelectric generation modules that can operate in the 100-150C range. In addition, the production cost of modules for generating power at room temperature was prohibitive.

In the present study, scientists at Osaka University, Japan, have developed a method to manufacture thermoelectric generation modules in a cost-efficient manner while preserving the conversion efficiency of the modules. They mounted small thermoelectric semiconductor chips on a flexible substrate and were able to achieve reliable and stable adhesion of the electrical contacts between the chips and the flexible substrate. They called their invention FlexTEG.

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Google Wins Dismissal of Suit Over Facial Recognition Software
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 05:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department:
A lawsuit filed against Google by users who said the world's largest search engine violated their privacy by using facial recognition technology was dismissed by a judge on Saturday. From a report: U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang in Chicago cited a lack of "concrete injuries" to the plaintiffs. The suit, initially filed in March 2016, alleged Alphabet's Google collected and stored biometric data from photographs using facial recognition software, running afoul of a unique Illinois law against using a person's image without permission.

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First-Ever UEFI Rootkit Tied To Sednit APT
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 04:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department:
Researchers hunting cyber-espionage group Sednit (an APT also known as Sofacy, Fancy Bear and APT28) say they have discovered the first-ever instance of a rootkit targeting the Windows Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) in successful attacks.

From a report: The discussion of Sednit was part of the 35C3 conference, and a session given by Frederic Vachon, a malware researcher at ESET who published a technical write-up on his findings earlier this fall [PDF]. During his session, Vachon said that finding a rootkit targeting a system's UEFI is significant, given that rootkit malware programs can survive on the motherboard's flash memory, giving it both persistence and stealth.

"UEFI rootkits have been researched and discussed heavily in the past few years, but sparse evidence has been presented of real campaigns actively trying to compromise systems at this level," he said. The rootkit is named LoJax. The name is a nod to the underlying code, which is a modified version of Absolute Software's LoJack recovery software for laptops. The purpose of the legitimate LoJack software is to help victims of a stolen laptop be able to access their PC without tipping off the bad guys who stole it. It hides on a system's UEFI and stealthily beacons its whereabouts back to the owner for possible physical recovery of the laptop.

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Trump's Tech Battle With China Roils Bill Gates Nuclear Venture
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 03:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department:
Add Bill Gates to the list of executives whose businesses have been ensnared by the Trump administration's battle with China over technology and trade. From a report: The tech tycoon and philanthropist said in an essay posted late last week that a nuclear-energy project in China by a company he co-founded called TerraPower LLC is now unlikely to proceed because of recent changes in U.S. policy toward China [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. That leaves TerraPower, which had been working on the China project for more than three years, scrambling for a new partner and uncertain where it might be able to run a pilot of the nuclear reactor it has been developing, according to company officials.

Mr. Gates, TerraPower's chairman, helped start and fund the Bellevue, Wash., company, which incorporated in 2008, in a long-term bid to make nuclear reactors smaller, less expensive and safer than current nuclear energy sources. The company has been developing something called a traveling-wave reactor, which uses depleted uranium as fuel, something that TerraPower says can improve safety and reduce costs. Regulatory restrictions and limited federal funding made building the facility in the U.S. difficult and led TerraPower to look for partners abroad, Chief Executive Chris Levesque said in an interview.

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Windows 10 Passes Windows 7 in Market Share
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's where-we-are-at department:
An anonymous reader writes: More than three years after its release, Windows 10 has passed Windows 7 in market share. That means more desktop computers are now running Microsoft's latest and greatest operating system than any other OS, according to Net Applications. The milestone is a nice way for Microsoft to end 2018, even though the company surely was hoping it wouldn't take this long for Windows 10 to overtake Windows 7.

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Caltech Scientists Use DNA Tiles To Play Tic-Tac-Toe at the Nanoscale
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: An innovation at Caltech allows scientists to play a virtual "tic-tac-toe" game with individual strands of DNA, providing a new way to experiment with DNA sequencing and create custom patterns. According to ArsTechnica, the technique was dubbed "DNA Origami [paper; PDF]" by its creator Lulu Qian and is considered by Caltech fellows to be a "huge advancement" in the field of nanotechnology (manipulation of particles on a minute, atomic scale).

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The Old Guard of Mac Indy Apps Has Thrived For More Than 25 Years
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's Old-Guard department:
Glenn Fleishman, writing for MacWorld: It seems like it was only yesterday that I first used BareBones Software's BBEdit, but in actuality, yesterday is so far away -- 25 years, in fact. With all the twists and turns across more than two decades of Apple as a company, Mac hardware, and the underlying operating system, you might think that BBEdit stands alone as a continuously-developed app shepherded largely or exclusively by the same independent developer -- an app without a giant company behind it. As it turns out, BBEdit is one of several apps that's been around the block more than a few times.

The longevity of indie apps is more extraordinary when you consider the changes Apple put the Mac through from the early 1990s to 2018. Apple switched from Motorola 680x0 processors to PowerPC to Intel chips, from 32-bit to 64-bit code, and among supported coding languages. It revved System 7 to 8 to 9, then to Unix across now 15 major releases (from 10.0 to 10.14). That's a lot for any individual programmer or small company to cope with. Bare Bones's head honcho, Rich Siegel, and the developers behind three other long-running Mac software programs shared with me their insight on development histories for over 25 years, what's changed the most during that time, and any hidden treasures users haven't yet found. You can hear more on BareBones Software's in this recent episode of The Talk Show, a podcast by DaringFireball's John Gruber.

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Chrome on Windows 10 To Get Dark Mode Feature Soon
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 11:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
Last year, Google pushed 'dark mode', a feature that replaces the shiny, whitespace background on a web page with a dark color, to its Android operating system and YouTube service. The company is now working to expand the feature to Chrome's Windows 10 application. Peter Kasting, a Chrome developer, confirmed the move in response to a user's query on a Reddit thread. He said a "native dark mode support is in progress" for Chrome's desktop application. Until then, reminded Kasting, "we generally suggest people use a dark theme" for Chrome via a third-party extension.

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Australian Autonomous Train is Being Called The 'World's Largest Robot'
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 09:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
schwit1 shares a report: Mining corporation Rio Tinto says that an autonomous rail system called AutoHaul that it's been developing in the remote Pilbara region of Australia for several years is now entirely operational -- an accomplishment the company says makes the system the "world's largest robot." "It's been a challenging journey to automate a rail network of this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara," Rio Tinto's managing director Ivan Vella told the Sydney Morning Herald, "but early results indicate significant potential to improve productivity, providing increased system flexibility and reducing bottlenecks." The ore-hauling train is just one part of an ambitious automation project involving robotics and driverless vehicles that Rio Tinto wants to use to automate its mining operations. The company conducted its first test of the train without a human on board last year, and it now claims that the system has completed more than a million kilometers (620,000 miles) of autonomous travel.

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NASA Spacecraft Confirms Successful Flyby of Distant Solar System Object
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's going-places department:
NASA received a critical signal from one of its most distant spacecrafts this morning, confirming that the vehicle has just flown by a tiny frozen rock in the outer reaches of the Solar System. From a report: That space probe, named New Horizons, has now made history. Currently located more than 4 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft has now whizzed past the most distant -- and most primitive -- object that's ever been visited by humanity. "We have a healthy spacecraft," Alice Bowman, the mission operations manager for the New Horizons mission, said after confirming the feet. "We've just accomplished the most distant flyby."

"It's a flyby that's been over a decade in the making, too. Launched in 2006, New Horizons famously passed by Pluto in 2015, becoming the first mission to ever reach the dwarf planet. But ever since that flyby, New Horizons has kept on speeding through the Solar System, in order to meet up with this new object, nicknamed Ultima Thule.

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Economists Calculate the True Value of Facebook To Its Users in New Study
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's what-it-all-boils-down-to department:
A series of auctions revealed that Facebook users value the company's service so highly that it would take on average more than $1,000 to convince them to deactivate their accounts for a year, according to a recent paper published in PLOS One. From a report: This doesn't mean much for the company's stock market valuation, but it's a good indicator that people find value in Facebook regardless of the many concerns raised recently. The paper started out as two separate studies. Jay Corrigan, an economist at Kenyon College, and his collaborator, Matt Rousu of Susquehanna University, were interested in a session on this topic at an upcoming conference. They discovered that Sean Cash (Tufts University) and Saleem Alhabash (Michigan State University) were doing something very similar.

Since the design of both studies was so complementary, they decided to combine their data and results into a single paper. Cash and Saleem had a larger sample for their part of the study and looked at a longer time period of one year, while Corrigan and Rosein focused on shorter time frames, asking subjects to quit Facebook for one day, three days, or seven days. The studies nonetheless had similar results.

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Mark Zuckerberg-Funded Researchers Test Implantable Brain Devices
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 07:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife Priscilla Chan have sold close to 30 million shares of Facebook to fund an ambitious biomedical research project, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), with a goal of curing all disease within a generation. A less publicized component of that US$5 billion program includes work on brain-machine interfaces, devices that essentially translate thoughts into commands.

From a report: One recent project is a wireless brain implant that can record, stimulate and disrupt the movement of a monkey in real time. In a paper published in the highly cited scientific journal Nature on Monday, researchers detail a wireless brain device implanted in a primate that records, stimulates, and modifies its brain activity in real time, sensing a normal movement and stopping it immediately. Those researchers are part of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a non-profit medical research group within the CZI. Scientists refer to the interference as "therapy" because it is designed to be used to treat diseases like epilepsy or Parkinson's by stopping a seizure or other disruptive motion just as it starts.

"Our device is able to monitor the primate's brain while it's providing the therapy so you know exactly what's happening," Rikky Muller, a co-author of the new study, told Business Insider. A professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, Muller is also a Biohub investigator. The applications of brain-machine interfaces are far-reaching: while some researchers focus on using them to help assist people with spinal cord injuries or other illnesses that affect movement, others aim to see them transform how everyone interacts with laptops and smartphones. Both a division at Facebook formerly called Building 8 as well as an Elon Musk-founded company called Neuralink have said they are working on the latter.

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Apple's AirPower, Unveiled in September 2017, Officially Misses 2018 Shipping Deadline
Posted by News Fetcher on January 01 '19 at 03:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's dude-where-is-my-AirPower? department:
From a 9to5Mac report: As the new year begins in Pacific Time, where Apple's Cupertino headquarters are based, the AirPower charging mat has officially missed its 2018 release window. The charging mat promised to charge iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods on a single compact mat with flexibility on where devices can be placed. However, the product has been rumored to have faced internal development challenges as late as this past summer, which prevented Apple from bringing the product to market as smoothly as it expected.

[...] Unusually, Apple has not provided a statement to press with an update on AirPower's status. Apple refused to acknowledge the product at its September and October events, and has not responded to press requests for comment at the end of December. The product therefore enters 2019 still in limbo.

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Hackers Make a Fake Hand to Beat Vein Authentication
Posted by News Fetcher on December 31 '18 at 09:40 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
Devices and security systems are increasingly using biometric authentication to let users in and keep hackers out, be that fingerprint sensors or perhaps the iPhone's FaceID. Another method is so-called 'vein authentication,' which, as the name implies, involves a computer scanning the shape, size, and position of a users' veins under the skin of their hand. But hackers have found a workaround for that, too.

From a report: On Thursday at the annual Chaos Communication Congress hacking conference in Leipzig, Germany, security researchers described how they created a fake hand out of wax to fool a vein sensor. "It makes you feel uneasy that the process is praised as a high-security system and then you modify a camera, take some cheap materials and hack it," Jan Krissler, who goes by the handle starbug, and who researched the vein authentication system along with Julian Albrecht, told Motherboard over email in German. Vein authentication works with systems that compare a user's placement of veins under their skin compared to a copy on record. According to a recent report from German news wire DPA, the BND, Germany's signals intelligence agency, uses vein authentication in its new headquarter building in Berlin.

One attraction of a vein based system over, say, a more traditional fingerprint system is that it may be typically harder for an attacker to learn how a user's veins are positioned under their skin, rather than lifting a fingerprint from a held object or high quality photograph, for example. But with that said, Krissler and Albrecht first took photos of their vein patterns. They used a converted SLR camera with the infrared filter removed; this allowed them to see the pattern of the veins under the skin.

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The EU is Banning Almost All Coal Mining on Jan 1
Posted by News Fetcher on December 31 '18 at 07:00 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department:
Every unprofitable coal mine in the European Union must cease production by the first day of 2019, the date on which all public funds for the mines will come to an end. From a report: In Spain, that means that 26 coal mines are about to close up shop, according to Reuters. This move away from coal is a refreshing bit of bluntness -- letting the failed remnants of a fossil fuel industry fade away -- compared to how the federal government in the U.S. is grasping at anything to keep coal alive. But it remains to be seen how much of an impact the coal closures will have in the ongoing effort to curb climate change. The deadline was set back in 2010 as the EU sought to move away from fossil fuel dependence, according to Telesur. The EU wanted to end public aid to coal mines sooner, but groups from Germany -- which shuttered its last coal mine earlier this month -- and Spain are responsible for extending the deadline all the way to the end of 2018.

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