By msmash from Slashdot's race-to-the-bottom department
Documents outlining how Facebook profited off children are expected to be made public soon, according to Reveal News of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), who requested the documents. From a report: In a report about the trove of previously-sealed documents, Reveal News explains that Facebook has previously faced lawsuits for failing to refund charges made by children playing games on Facebook. According to Reveal, the children did not know that their parent's credit card was stored on the platform when they clicked "buy," and in some cases, hundreds or even thousands of dollars were spent. In one case, the plaintiff, who is a child, spent several hundreds of dollars in just a few weeks. According to the report, more documents show "widespread confusion by children and their parents, who didn't understand Facebook continued to charge them as they played games."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's advancements-in-robotics department
Pick up a glass of water, lift a fork: you automatically figure out the best way to grasp each object. Now researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a robot that makes similar calculation, choosing on the fly whether to grab an object with pincers or lift it with a suction cup. From a report: Berkeley's two-armed robot, seen in this video clip [GIF file], first considers the contents of a bin and calculates each arm's probability of picking up an object. Its suction cup is good at grabbing smooth, flat objects like boxes, but bad at porous surfaces like on a stuffed animal. The pincers, on the other hand, are best with small, odd-shaped items. The system learned its pick-up prowess not from actual practice, but from millions of simulated grasps on more than 1,600 3D objects. In every simulation, small details were randomized, which taught the robot to deal with real-world uncertainty. The bot can pick up objects 95% of the time, at about 300 successful pickups per hour, its creators write in a paper published this week in Science Robotics. Warehouse robots that can move around merchandise are highly sought after. Amazon is reportedly working on its own "picker" robots, as are several robotics companies.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's various-arguments department
On October 19, 2017, astronomers at the University of Hawaii spotted a strange object travelling through our solar system, which they later described as "a red and extremely elongated asteroid." It was the first interstellar object to be detected within our solar system; the scientists named it 'Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for a scout or messenger. The following October, Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard's astronomy department, co-wrote a paper (with a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, Shmuel Bialy) that examined 'Oumuamua's "peculiar acceleration" and suggested that the object "may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth's vicinity by an alien civilization." Loeb has long been interested in the search for extraterrestrial life, and he recently made further headlines by suggesting that we might communicate with the civilization that sent the probe.
Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker has interviewed Loeb, who was frustrated that scientists saw 'Oumuamua too late in its journey to photograph the object. "My motivation for writing the paper is to alert the community to pay a lot more attention to the next visitor," he told Chotiner. An excerpt from the interview: The New Yorker: Your explanation of why 'Oumuamua might be an interstellar probe may be hard for laypeople to understand. Why might this be the case, beyond the fact that lots of things are possible?
Loeb: There is a Scientific American article I wrote where I summarized six strange facts about 'Oumuamua. The first one is that we didn't expect this object to exist in the first place. We see the solar system and we can calculate at what rate it ejected rocks during its history. And if we assume all planetary systems around other stars are doing the same thing, we can figure out what the population of interstellar objects should be. That calculation results in a lot of possibilities, but the range is much less than needed to explain the discovery of 'Oumuamua.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's back-from-the-dead department
A new report from The Wall Street Journal says the Motorola RAZR might be making a comeback as a $1,500 foldable screen smartphone, and it could launch as early as February. The Verge reports: The original RAZR was one of the most iconic cellphones ever made, and it seems that Motorola's parent company Lenovo is looking to cash in on that branding with an updated foldable phone (similar to the one that Samsung has teased for later this year). Per the WSJ, the new RAZR will be exclusive to Verizon in the U.S. with a planned February launch, although the device is still in testing and details have yet to be finalized.
Also unknown is nearly any concrete information about the phone. There's no word yet on things like screen size, specifications, or even form factor. Will the revived RAZR just borrow the name but use a more traditional landscape folding display? Will Lenovo follow the original RAZR design and have some sort of super long vertically folding screen? According to the WSJ report, Lenovo is hoping to manufacture over 200,000 of the new RAZRs, which may seem optimistic for a $1,500 luxury smartphone. But considering that the (admittedly much cheaper) RAZR V3 model sold 130 million units over its lifespan, if lightning does manage to strike twice, that goal might not be so hard to hit.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's viewership-numbers department
In its fourth-quarter 2018 earnings report, Netflix disclosed some of its viewership numbers for hits such as "Bird Box." "Overall, Netflix said it serves about 100 million hours of video per day, earning an estimated 10 percent of all time spent in front of the TV in the U.S.," reports CNBC. The company also said "Bird Box" reached 80 million member households in its first four weeks on the streaming service. Unfortunately, it still didn't show exactly how many people have viewed the content. From the report: By way of comparison, during the week of Jan. 7, the top TV show was an NFL playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Jan. 13, which drew 33 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The top scripted show, "The Big Bang Theory," drew over 13 million. But Netflix does not view TV as its only competition. In its earnings note, it also said games such as Fortnite compete for attention. Fortnite reportedly draws 200 million players per week.
The company also highlighted several of its international projects. Netflix said its original from Spain, "Elite," was watched by over 20 million member households worldwide in the first four weeks. "Bodyguard," co-produced with BBC One; "Baby," an original series from Italy, and "Protector," an original series from Turkey, all reached more than 10 million member households in their first four weeks, the company said. There was still one notable hit that Netflix didn't disclose numbers for: "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch." Instead, the company discussed in its earnings letter that the technology used to create the movie, its first interactive choose-your-own-adventure-style flick, will be used for interactive projects in the future.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's lost-and-found department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: A periodic table chart discovered at the University of St Andrews is thought to be the oldest in the world. The chart of elements, dating from 1885, was discovered in the University's School of Chemistry in 2014 by Dr. Alan Aitken during a clear out. The storage area was full of chemicals, equipment and laboratory paraphernalia that had accumulated since the opening of the chemistry department at its current location in 1968. Following months of clearing and sorting the various materials a stash of rolled up teaching charts was discovered. Within the collection was a large, extremely fragile periodic table that flaked upon handling. Suggestions that the discovery may be the earliest surviving example of a classroom periodic table in the world meant the document required urgent attention to be authenticated, repaired and restored.
Mendeleev made his famous disclosure on periodicity in 1869, the newly unearthed table was rather similar, but not identical to Mendeleev's second table of 1871. However, the St Andrews table was clearly an early specimen. The table is annotated in German, and an inscription at the bottom left -- "Verlag v. Lenoir & Forster, Wien" -- identifies a scientific printer who operated in Vienna between 1875 and 1888. Another inscription -- "Lith. von Ant. Hartinger & Sohn, Wien" -- identifies the chart's lithographer, who died in 1890. Working with the University's Special Collections team, the University sought advice from a series of international experts. Following further investigations, no earlier lecture chart of the table appears to exist. Professor Eric Scerri, an expert on the history of the periodic table based at the University of California, Los Angeles, dated the table to between 1879 and 1886 based on the represented elements. For example, both gallium and scandium, discovered in 1875 and 1879 respectively, are present, while germanium, discovered in 1886, is not.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's listen-for-what-you-don't-hear department
"Researchers writing in Science argue that networked audio recording devices mounted in trees could be used to monitor wildlife populations and better evaluate whether conservation projects are working or not," writes Slashdot reader Damien1972. From the report: Compared to ground surveys and camera traps, the technology provides cheap continuous, real-time biodiversity monitoring at the landscape scale. Thousands of hours of recordings can now be collected with long-lasting batteries and stored digitally. In sites with solar power and cellular signal, multi-year recordings have now been transmitted and saved to scientists' databases. That's possible thanks to the steep drop in the price of equipment that enables researchers to collect more than short, isolated sound snapshots.
The key, says co-authors Eddie Game of The Nature Conservancy and Zuzana Burivalova at Princeton University, is to build out enough data to understand how changing soundscapes reflect biodiversity on the ground. Game says he has found plenty of "high-conservation value" tropical forests that are devoid of key species. This is common in reserves set aside by owners of plantation crops such as palm oil. Algorithms can use these recording to learn the sound of healthy forests, and infer the composition of their species. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the researchers found soundscapes in fragmented forests were far quieter during the dawn and evening choruses, the short cacophonous periods during the changing of day and night. Once enough data has been collected [...] the technology can be applied to the zero deforestation commitments set by corporations.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-and-improved department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Economist: The fuzzy specks growing on discs of jelly in Floyd Romesberg's lab at Scripps Research in La Jolla look much like any other culture of E. coli. But appearances deceive -- for the dna of these bacteria is written in an alphabet that has six chemical letters instead of the usual four. Every other organism on Earth relies on a quartet of genetic bases: a (adenine), c (cytosine), t (thymine) and g (guanine). These fit together in pairs inside a double-stranded dna molecule, a matching t and c, g. But in 2014 Dr Romesberg announced that he had synthesised a new, unnatural, base pair, dubbed x and y, and slipped them into the genome of E. coli as well. Kept supplied with sufficient quantities of X and Y, the new cells faithfully replicated the enhanced DNA -- and, crucially, their descendants continued to do so, too. Since then, Dr Romesberg and his colleagues have been encouraging their new, "semisynthetic" cells to use the expanded alphabet to make proteins that could not previously have existed, and which might have properties that are both novel and useful. Now they think they have found one. In collaboration with a spin-off firm called Synthorx, they hope to create a less toxic and more effective version of a cancer drug called interleukin-2.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's rest-in-peace department
Thelasko shares a report from MarketWatch: You can thank Thomas Edison for the light bulb casting light in your home, Henry Ford for your affordable, mass-produced car, and Apple's Steve Jobs for the astonishing computer in your pocket. And Jack Bogle, who died Wednesday [at the age of 89]. The low-cost mutual funds he helped pioneer at Vanguard aren't as sexy or dramatic as other inventions. And you can't really touch or see them. But their effect on everyday lives has been enormous. Bogle's low-cost index funds, and the imitators they have inspired, may have saved ordinary Main Street Americans a staggering $250 billion, or more, in mutual fund fees over the last forty years. According to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), there are now about 450 index mutual funds with around $3.4 trillion in assets. There are also 1,800 exchange-traded funds, also with around $3.4 trillion in assets.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's finger-pointing department
Last week, Ars Technica reported that Verizon's new "spam" fee for texts sent from teachers to students might stop working on the network because of a dispute over texting fees that Verizon demanded from Remind, the company that operates the service. Now, it appears that Verizon "has backed down from its original position slightly, and ongoing negotiations could allow the free texting service to continue," reports Ars. From the report: As we reported Monday, the dispute involves Verizon and Remind, which makes a communication service used by teachers and youth sports coaches. Verizon is charging an additional fee, saying the money will be used to fund spam-blocking services. The fee would increase Remind's costs for sending texts to Verizon users from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars per year, Remind said. Remind said it would absorb the cost in order to continue providing the paid version of its service. But most of Remind's 30 million users rely on the free version of the service, and Remind said it could no longer provide free text message notifications over Verizon's network unless the fee is reversed.
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