By msmash from Slashdot's fun-story-of-the-week department
An anonymous reader shares a report: When Anand Kalelkar started a new job at a large insurance company, colleagues flooded him with instant messages and emails and rushed to introduce themselves in the cafeteria. He soon learned his newfound popularity came with strings attached. Strings of code. Many of Mr. Kalelkar's co-workers had heard he was a wizard at Microsoft Excel and were seeking his help in taming unruly spreadsheets and pivot tables gone wrong. [...] Excel buffs are looking to lower their profiles. Since its introduction in 1985 by Microsoft Corp., the spreadsheet program has grown to hundreds of millions of users world-wide. It has simplified countless office tasks once done by hand or by rudimentary computer programs, streamlining the work of anyone needing to balance a budget, draw a graph or crunch company earnings. Advanced users can perform such feats as tracking the expenditures of thousands of employees. At the same time, it has complicated the lives of the office Excel Guy or Gal, the virtuosos whose superior skills at writing formula leave them fighting an endless battle against the circular references, merged cells and mangled macros left behind by their less savvy peers. "If someone tells you that they âjust have a few Excel sheets' that they want help with, run the other way," tweeted 32-year-old statistician Andrew Althouse. "Also, you may want to give them a fake phone number, possibly a fake name. It may be worth faking your own death, in extreme circumstances." The few Excel sheets in question, during one recent encounter, turned out to have 400 columns each, replete with mismatched terms and other coding no-nos, said Mr. Althouse, who works at the University of Pittsburgh. The project took weeks to straighten out.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's aggressive-expansion department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Arabella. Lark & Roe. Mae. NuPro. Small Parts. You might not know it from their names, but these brands all belong to Amazon. Amazon's private label business is booming, on pace to generate $7.5 billion this year and $25 billion by 2022, according to estimates from investment firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. To accelerate that growth, the company is inviting manufacturers to create products exclusively for its collection of private brands. The "Amazon Accelerator Program" is hiring a senior product manager for private brands, CNBC reported. The job listing invites applicants to "invent and Think Big to take an idea from concept to reality for Amazon customers." Duties include managing and planning inventory, identifying business opportunities, and working across a wide swath of Amazon divisions, including consumables, Prime Pantry, Prime Fresh, Prime Now, and Amazon Go. Another job listing spotted by CNBC, for a private brands program leader, notes that the "Private Brands team is rapidly expanding and is looking for an exceptional product leader to grow the business." Brands created through the accelerator will be exclusive to Amazon, but not owned by it, the company said. Further reading: Amazon is Stuffing Its Search Results Pages With Ads.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's other-shoe-drops department
Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a story on Thursday which claimed that data center equipments run by Amazon Web Services and Apple were subject to surveillance from the Chinese government via a tiny microchip inserted during the equipment manufacturing process. Both Amazon and Apple have vehemently refuted Bloomberg's reporting. Bloomberg's reporters, who have spent more than a year on the story and have cited 17 sources for the claims they make in it, have doubled down. In a new story, the news outlet reports that Supermicro was the target of at least two additional forms of attack. This report claims that Facebook was aware of these attacks, too, which has confirmed it. From the story: The first of the other two prongs involved a Supermicro online portal that customers used to get critical software updates, and that was breached by China-based attackers in 2015. The problem, which was never made public, was identified after at least two Supermicro customers downloaded firmware -- software installed in hardware components -- meant to update their motherboards' network cards, key components that control communications between servers running in a data center. The code had been altered, allowing the attackers to secretly take over a server's communications, according to samples passed around at the time among a small group of Supermicro customers. One of these customers was Facebook. "In 2015, we were made aware of malicious manipulation of software related to Supermicro hardware from industry partners through our threat intelligence industry sharing programs," Facebook said in an emailed statement. "While Facebook has purchased a limited number of Supermicro hardware for testing purposes confined to our labs, our investigations reveal that it has not been used in production, and we are in the process of removing them." The victims considered the faulty code a serious breach. Further reading: Bloomberg's spy chip story reveals the murky world of national security reporting.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's end-of-an-era department
Rethink Robotics led the way in building robots that could work safely alongside humans. But when it came to selling those robots, Boston-based Rethink came up second best. On Wednesday, without warning, Rethink shut its doors, after a deal to acquire the company fell through. From a report: "We thought that we had a deal that we were going to be able to close," said Rethink chief executive Scott Eckert. But the buyer backed out. Eckert declined to identify the company that had broken off the acquisition. Eckert said Rethink ran low on cash as sales of the company's Baxter and Sawyer robots fell short of expectations. "We got out a little early with a very, very innovative product, and unfortunately did not get the commercial success that we expected to get," he said. Rethink was a pioneer in developing collaborative robots, or "cobots," which are designed to work side-by-side with humans. Their software makes them easy to program, even by workers with no training in robotics, and they come with sensors and software to prevent them from accidentally harming nearby humans.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's naturally-sweetened department
According to a study published in the journal Molecules, researchers found that six common artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA and 10 sport supplements that contained them were found to be toxic to the digestive gut microbes of mice. CNBC reports: Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic. According to the study, the gut microbial system "plays a key role in human metabolism," and artificial sweeteners can "affect host health, such as inducing glucose intolerance." Additionally, some of the effects of the new FDA-approved sweeteners, such as neotame, are still unknown.
However, the study found that mice treated with the artificial sweetener neotame had different metabolic patterns than those not treated, and several important genes found in the human gut had decreased. Additionally, concentrations of several fatty acids, lipids and cholesterol were higher in mice treated with neotame than in those not. Because of the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and foods, many people consume them without knowing it.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's no-touchy department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple has introduced software locks that will effectively prevent independent and third-party repair on 2018 MacBook Pro computers, according to internal Apple documents obtained by Motherboard. The new system will render the computer "inoperative" unless a proprietary Apple "system configuration" software is run after parts of the system are replaced. According to the document, which was distributed to Apple's Authorized Service Providers late last month, this policy will apply to all Apple computers with the "T2" security chip, which is present in 2018 MacBook Pros as well as the iMac Pro. The software lock will kick in for any repair which involves replacing a MacBook Pro's display assembly, logic board, top case (the keyboard, touchpad, and internal housing), and Touch ID board. On iMac Pros, it will kick in if the Logic Board or flash storage are replaced. The computer will only begin functioning again after Apple or a member of one of Apple's Authorized Service Provider repair program runs diagnostic software called Apple Service Toolkit 2.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's smear-campaigns department
Last month when Boeing and SpaceX announced the first astronauts who will fly on their commercial crew spacecraft, several newspapers across the U.S. began publishing an op-ed that criticized the process by which Boeing competitor SpaceX fuels its Falcon 9 rocket. "The first op-ed appeared in a Memphis newspaper a week before the commercial crew announcement," reports Ars Technica. "In recent weeks, copies of the op-ed have also appeared in the Houston Chronicle, various Alabama newspapers, Albuquerque Journal, Florida Today, and The Washington Times." Ars Technica reports: All of these op-eds were bylined by "retired spacecraft operator" Richard Hagar, who worked for NASA during the Apollo program and now lives in Tennessee. (Based upon his limited social media postings, Hagar appears to be more interested in conservative politics than in space these days). Each op-ed cites Hagar's work on NASA's recovery from the Apollo 1 fire and the hard lessons NASA learned that day about human spaceflight. The pieces then pivot to arguing that SpaceX's load-and-go fueling process -- in which the crew will board the Dragon spacecraft on top of the Falcon 9 rocket before it is fueled -- ignores the lessons that Hagar's generation learned during Apollo.
"It's concerning to learn that some of the newer private space ventures launching today don't appreciate the same safety standards we learned to emphasize on Apollo," the op-ed states. "I suppose for Mr. Musk, inexperience is replacing the abundant safety protocols drilled into us after witnessing the Apollo 1 disaster. Astronaut safety is NASA's number one priority on any space mission. There is no reason it should not be for private space travel, but commercial space companies like SpaceX play by different rules."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's never-forget department
OpenSourceAllTheWay writes: CNN reports on a new font that is purposely designed to more easily help students recall academic materials they read. From the report: "Australian researchers say their new font, called Sans Forgetica, could be the tool to help people retain information. The typeface, which slants to the side and has gaps in the middle, is not easy on the eyes. But according to the team at RMIT University in Australia who conceived Sans Forgetica, it has the perfect combination of 'obstruction' needed to recall information. The multidisciplinary team of typographic design specialists and psychologists said they designed Sans Forgetica using the learning principle called 'desirable difficulty.' The principle means that when obstruction is added to the learning process, people are required to make a little more effort and end up having better memory retention. With normal fonts 'readers often glance over them and no memory trace is created,' RMIT senior lecturer Janneke Blijlevens said in a statement. Conversely, if a font is too difficult, memory is not retained. 'Sans Forgetica lies at a sweet spot where just enough obstruction has been added to create that memory retention,' she said. To get to that sweet spot, the researchers tested various fonts with roughly 400 Australian university students in a laboratory and an online experiment 'where fonts with a range of obstructions were tested to determine which led to the best memory retention,' RMIT said. 'Sans Forgetica broke just enough design principles without becoming too illegible and aided memory retention,' RMIT said."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cheaper-by-the-dozen department
talonyx writes: D-Wave Systems, the contentious but scrappy maker of quantum annealing processors, has launched a cloud-based platform where developers can sign up for free and run problems on their quantum processor unit (QPU). There's an in-depth set of demos, documentation, and an open-source Python SDK to look at. "Leap is the latest addition to the quantum cloud -- services that virtualize quantum computing for almost anyone with a computer and a broadband connection to use," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Leap allows anyone to sign up, giving them one minute of time on a cloud-connected 2000Q each month. That might not sound like much, but a key advantage of quantum computing is to be able to solve in milliseconds problems like factoring large numbers, optimizing routes, or calculating molecular structures that could take traditional computers days or weeks."
"D-Wave estimates that each user's free minute of quantum computing time should be enough to run between 400 and 4,000 jobs each month," the report adds. "If developers want more, the company will charge commercial users $2,000 for one hour of access each month."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's adapting-to-the-times department
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a report called "Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0," which includes a new set of voluntary guidelines for automated driving systems. According to Engadget, the report "outlines additional safety principles, updates policy and offers guidance to state and local governments." From the report: The report notes that it's meant to be an update to, but not a replacement of, last year's guidance, and it encourages those developing automated driving systems to make public their Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments, which were introduced in last year's report. It also updates the list of best practices for state and local governments considering automated vehicle testing and operation. The agency also takes measures to clarify its policies and roles in regards to autonomous technology implementation. First, it's doing away with the Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds announced last year -- a list of 10 self-driving test sites that were eligible for federal funding. The DOT said that due to the "rapid increase in automated vehicle testing activities in many locations, there is no need for U.S. DOT to favor particular locations."
Additionally, the agency is working on updating language and regulations that it said unintentionally hamper automated vehicle progress. It will adapt its definitions of "driver" and "operator" to reflect that they no longer always refer to humans and can encompass automated systems. The DOT also announced a future notice of proposed rulemaking that will suggest exceptions to certain safety standards that apply only to human drivers -- such as pedals, brakes, mirrors and steering wheels -- for automated systems.Read Replies (0)