By BeauHD from Slashdot's life-saving-tech department
Researchers in the Australian state of Tasmania are using a "virtual fence" system, consisting of alarm units mounted on posts along the side of a three-mile stretch of road, to reduce the number animals that get struck and killed by cars on a particularly deadly stretch of road. "These alarm units, around 80 feet apart, emit sounds and flashing lights to warn animals when a car is approaching," reports Digital Trends. "These do not distract drivers because the sound and light are directed to the edge of the road. They are also only loud and bright enough to be noticeable to wildlife in the immediate vicinity." From the report: "The virtual fence technology involves small devices, approximately the size of a mobile phone, mounted on a pole on the side of the road which are triggered by car headlights when they hit a sensor in the device," Samantha Fox, the researcher who led the project, told Digital Trends. "This sets off blue and yellow flashing lights and a high pitched siren. These together warn local wildlife that a car is coming, and give the animal time to move away from the road." Over the course of a three-year trial, the technology has reduced roadkill on one particular road by a massive 50 percent. On this stretch of road alone, this has meant saving the lives of around 200 animals, ranging from wombats to possums.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's rest-in-peace department
George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, has passed away tonight at the age of 94. As The Washington Post reports, he was "the last veteran of World War II to serve as president, he was a consummate public servant and a statesman who helped guide the nation and the world out of a four-decade Cold War that had carried the threat of nuclear annihilation." From the report: Although Mr. Bush served as president three decades ago, his values and ethic seem centuries removed from today's acrid political culture. His currency of personal connection was the handwritten letter -- not the social media blast. He had a competitive nature and considerable ambition that were not easy to discern under the sheen of his New England politesse and his earnest generosity. He was capable of running hard-edge political campaigns, and took the nation to war. But his principal achievements were produced at negotiating tables.
Despite his grace, Mr. Bush was an easy subject for caricature. He was an honors graduate of Yale University who was often at a loss for words in public, especially when it came to talking about himself. Though he was tested in combat when he was barely out of adolescence, he was branded "a wimp" by those who doubted whether he had essential convictions. This paradox in the public image of Mr. Bush dogged him, as did domestic events. His lack of sure-footedness in the face of a faltering economy produced a nosedive in the soaring popularity he enjoyed after the triumph of the Persian Gulf War. In 1992, he lost his bid for a second term as president. Bush's spokesman Jim McGrath announced his death on Twitter, but didn't provide the case of death. In 2012, he announced that he had vascular Parkinsonism, which may have played a role in his passing.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's losses-and-gains department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: It's no secret that humans -- noisy, messy creatures that we are -- are vastly altering Earth's environments. But it's one thing to know this in the abstract, and another to see global changes laid out in detail, as they are in comprehensive new maps published this month in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Developed by geoscientist Tomasz Stepinski and his team at the University of Cincinnati's Space Informatics Lab (SPI), the intricate visualizations reveal that 22 percent of Earth's total landmass was altered between 1992 and 2015, mostly by humans. The most common change was forest loss due to agricultural development, and the second most common was the reverse -- farms to forests. The swift urbanization of grasslands, forests, and farms was also reflected in the maps.
Stepinski and his colleagues used satellite data collected by the European Space Agency's Climate Change Initiative, which included geospatial maps of land cover designed to monitor climate change. The team broke these maps into 81-kilometer-squared tracts and created a legend of color-coded tiles based on nine broad types of transitions that occurred between 1992 and 2015 (agriculture gains in yellow, forest losses in maroon, etc). The tiles are shaded to reflect the degree of change, with the lightest shade corresponding to regions altered by less than 10 percent, and dark patches representing regions that shifted by 30 percent or more. On a broad scale, the maps emphasize the massive influence of human activity on the planet. But the project has also revealed granular details about specific locations.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's major-concessions department
According to a new report from The Associated Press, a number of China's government officials and entities have had access to the location data of "new energy vehicles" from many different manufacturers. "More than 200 manufacturers (both national and foreign) transmit the data to 'government-backed monitoring centers,' according to the report, including one called 'The Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring and Research Center' and another known as the 'National Big Data Alliance of New Energy Vehicles,'" reports The Verge. From the report: Chinese officials told the AP that this data -- which includes the real-time location of cars, plus "dozens of other data points" -- is collected to "improve public safety" and "facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning." The officials say the data is also used to "prevent fraud" in the government's subsidy program for new energy vehicles, which offers steep discounts on clean cars. The monitoring systems have been in place since the beginning of 2017, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation from last year. Staffers at the data monitoring centers are able to look at a map, click on a car, and see things like make and model, mileage, and battery charge, according to the AP report.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's next-big-thing department
Airbnb is reportedly planning to distribute prototype buildings next year. Yesterday, Samara, a futures division of Airbnb meant to develop new products and services for the company, announced a new initiative called Backyard. The initiative is described in a press release as "an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes," with the first wave of test units going public in 2019. Fast Company reports: The name "Backyard" might imply that Airbnb just wants to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), those small cottages that sit behind large suburban houses and are often rented on Airbnb. [Airbnb chief product officer and cofounder Joe Gebbia] clarifies that is not the case. "The project was born in a studio near Airbnb headquarters," he says in an interview over email. "We always felt as if we were in Airbnb's backyard -- physically and conceptually -- and started referring to the project as such."
Backyard is poised to be much larger than ADUs, in Gebbia's telling. Yes, small prefabricated dwellings could be in the roadmap, but so are green building materials, standalone houses, and multi-unit complexes. Think of Backyard as both a producer and a marketplace for selling major aspects of the home, in any shape it might come in. "Backyard investigates how buildings could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and gains vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time," Gebbia says. "Backyard isn't a house, it's an initiative to rethink the home. Homes are complex, and we're taking a broad approach -- not just designing one thing, but a system that can do many things."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's end-of-the-road department
According to 9to5Google, Google Hangouts for consumers will be shutting down sometime in 2020. The news shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since Google essentially stopped development on the app more than a year ago. Thankfully, there are plenty of other Google messaging apps available, such as Allo, Duo, and Android Messages. From the report: Last spring, Google announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand to enterprise use cases with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, so the writing has been on the wall for quite some time regarding the Hangouts consumer app's demise. Meanwhile, Google has transitioned its consumer-facing messaging efforts to RCS 'Chat' and Android Messages following Allo's misadventures.
As mentioned, Hangouts as a brand will live on with G Suite's Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, the former intended to be a team communication app comparable to Slack, and the latter a video meetings platform. Meanwhile, Google Voice calling, which was at first independent and then long integrated into Hangouts, was moved back out to its own redesigned app earlier this year. Interestingly, despite its forthcoming axing, Hangouts was one of a few apps to get early support for Android Auto's new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Android Messages and WhatsApp.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
An estimated 4 billion people in the world lack a physical address. Researchers at the MIT Media Lab and Facebook are now proposing a new way to address the unaddressed: with machine learning. From a report: The team first trained a deep-learning algorithm to extract the road pixels from satellite images. Another algorithm connected the pixels together into a road network. The system analyzed the density and shape of the roads to segment the network into different communities, and the densest cluster was labeled as the city center. The regions around the city center were divided into north, south, east, and west quadrants, and streets were numbered and lettered according to their orientation and distance from the center.
When they compared their final results with a random sample of unmapped regions whose streets had been labeled manually, their approach successfully addressed more than 80% of the populated areas, improving coverage compared with Google Maps or OpenStreetMaps. This isn't the only way to automate the creation of addresses. The organization what3words generates a unique three-word combination for every 3-by-3-meter square on a global grid. The scheme has already been adopted in regions of South Africa, Turkey, and Mongolia by national package delivery services, local hospitals, and regional security teams. But Ilke Demir, a researcher at Facebook and one of the creators of the new system, says its main advantage is that it follows existing road topology and helps residents understand how two addresses relate to one another.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
An anonymous reader shares an article: I don't use the phrase "Will do!" much in daily conversation, but lately it has been creeping into more and more of my e-mails. An editor asks me to get a draft back to her tomorrow? Will do! A friend heading back to Los Angeles from New York sends me a quick note telling me to enjoy living in the "best city in the world." Will do! The hosts of a panel I'm moderating need me to send over a three-line bio? Will do! "Will do!" is just one of many Smart Replies that Google now provides as a default feature in Gmail, there to assist you in your message composition unless you choose to manually turn them off. In October, the e-mail service, which one analytics firm suggests hosts about a quarter of all the e-mails sent worldwide, made this feature standard on its 1.4 billion active accounts, along with a menu of other innovations.
These include Smart Compose, a feature that finishes your sentences for you with the help of robot intelligence, and Nudges, a feature that bumps unanswered e-mails to the top of your in-box, making you feel increasingly guilty with every sign-in. As with many technological updates that are suddenly imposed on unsuspecting users, the new Gmail interface has been met with much annoyance. When my in-box started offering me Smart Replies, I felt a little offended. How dare it guess what I want to say, I thought. I -- a professional writer! -- have more to offer than just "Got it!" or "Love it!" or "Thanks for letting me know!" (Smart Replies are big on exclamation points.) I started to resent the A.I., which seemed to be learning my speech patterns faster than I could outsmart it. Just as I decided that I'd thwart the machine mind by answering my messages with "Cool!", the service started offering me several "Cool" varietals. Suddenly, I could answer with "Sounds cool" or "Cool, thanks" or the dreaded "Cool, I'll check it out!"Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Facebook is still reeling from the revelation that it hired an opposition research firm with close ties to the Republican party, but its relationship with Definers Public Affairs isn't the company's only recent contract work with deeply GOP-linked strategy firms. TechCrunch reports: According to sources familiar with the project, Facebook also contracted with Targeted Victory, described as "the GOP's go-to technology consultant firm." Targeted Victory worked with Facebook on the company's Community Boost roadshow, a tour of U.S. cities meant to stimulate small business interest in Facebook as a business and ad platform. The ongoing Community Boost initiative, announced in late 2017, kicked off earlier this year with stops in cities like and Topeka, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Facebook also worked with Targeted Victory on the company's ad transparency efforts. Over the last year, Facebook has attempted to ward off regulation from Congress over ad disclosure, even putting forth some self-regulatory efforts to appease legislators.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's setting-precedence department
Businesses using fingerprint scanners to monitor their workforce can legally sack employees who refuse to hand over biometric information on privacy grounds, the Fair Work Commission has ruled. From a report: The ruling, which will be appealed, was made in the case of Jeremy Lee, a Queensland sawmill worker who refused to comply with a new fingerprint scanning policy introduced at his work in Imbil, north of the Sunshine Coast, late last year. Fingerprint scanning was used to monitor the clock-on and clock-off times of about 150 sawmill workers at two sites and was preferred to swipe cards because it prevented workers from fraudulently signing in on behalf of their colleagues to mask absences.
By msmash from Slashdot's out-now department
After months of back and forth, Apple has permitted Indian telecom regulator TRAI to release its anti-spam app on the App Store. The app, called TRAI DND - Do Not Disturb, went live on the iPhone app store on Friday. The free app, a version of which has existed on Android platform since 2016, allows customers to block unsolicited texts and calls from marketers, a rampant issue that continues to plague customers in India.
By msmash from Slashdot's before-it-is-too-late department
If New York City Council Member Ritchie J. Torres has his way, the growing trend of cashless restaurants -- establishments that accept payment only in plastic and digital forms -- will be snuffed out. From a report: Torres plans to introduce legislation before his fellow city council members that, if passed, would levy fines on any local businesses that refused to accept paper currency. "I started coming across coffee shops and cafes that were exclusively cashless and I thought: But what if I was a low-income New Yorker who has no access to a card?" he says in a Q&A with Grub Street. "I thought about it more and realized that even if a policy seems neutral in theory, it can be racially exclusionary in practice. Therein lies the problem with card-only policies. I see it as a way to gentrify the marketplace."
Torres believes the cashless business model is inherently classist and racist, as it excludes anyone who might not be able to afford smartphones loaded with digital currency such as Apple Pay or qualify for credit cards, let alone the roughly 22 million Americans who do not have bank accounts. "If you're intent on a cashless business model, it will have the effect of excluding lower-income communities of color from what should be an open and free market," he tells Grub Street. In 2009 Wall Street Journal story, Tony Zazula, co-owner of now-shuttered Commerce in New York City, explained, pretty much, yes, that's right.Read Replies (0)