By EditorDavid from Slashdot's bad-advice department
An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian:
An Amazon customer got a grim message last year from Alexa, the virtual assistant in the company's smart speaker device: "Kill your foster parents." The user who heard the message from his Echo device wrote a harsh review on Amazon's website, Reuters reported -- calling Alexa's utterance "a whole new level of creepy". An investigation found the bot had quoted from the social media site Reddit, known for harsh and sometimes abusive messages, people familiar with the investigation told Reuters. The odd command is one of many hiccups that have happened as Amazon tries to train its machine to act something like a human, engaging in casual conversations in response to its owner's questions or comments.
And Alexa also can't tell a human voice from a parrot, according to a Huffington Post story shared by PolygamousRanchKid:
Rocco, an African grey, was caught using the virtual assistant to play his favorite music, tell jokes and even order snacks, The Times of London reports. Thankfully the device's parental lock system prevented the clever boy from actually purchasing any items which included strawberries, ice cream and even a kettle.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's friend-requests department
"The working poor are spilling into Bay Area streets for lack of safe, affordable shelter," report two Silicon Valley newspapers describing a "pop-up neighborhood" that's now banding together, "a small community of blue collar RV dwellers...fighting for the only place they can call home."
The beautifully-illustrated article begins with an interview with a grey-haired woman named Lisa Cosey-Steven:
[D]espite steady work and little debt, she trudges back and forth to the office every day from a dark RV trailer, packed floor to ceiling with bags of clothes, pet supplies for her seven dogs, thriller novels and food. Cosey-Stevens, 63, has been parked on the shoulder of Bay Road in East Palo Alto, just about two miles from Facebook headquarters and some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, since June. "No one knows how badly I want out of this," she said during an interview in her trailer. "It's depressing to live like this...."
She's part of an unplanned and impromptu RV park, about 80 people pushed out of apartments and into trailers and the edge of homelessness... Their neighborhood of about 50 RVs lines the eastern end of Bay Road and Tara Street, next to a stretch of salvage yards, warehouses and empty lots guarded by chain link fence. It's just off a thoroughfare for local tech employees and sits adjacent to the site of a new, multi-million dollar youth education center, Epacenter Arts. Several of the aging RVs have large banners draped over the sides, making pleas to the big employers in the area: "SOS -- Facebook, Sobrato, Amazon, Google."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's prime-of-your-life department
chalsall (Slashdot reader #185), writes:
The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) has discovered the largest known prime number, 2^82,589,933-1, having 24,862,048 digits. A computer volunteered by Patrick Laroche from Ocala, Florida made the find on December 7, 2018.
GIMPS has been on amazing lucky streak, finding triple the expected number of new Mersenne primes -- a dozen in the last fifteen years.
"This anomaly is not necessarily evidence that existing theories on the distribution of Mersenne primes is incorrect," notes GIMPSS. "However, if the trend continues it may be worth further investigation. " They also report that the newly-discovered prime number "is more than one and a half million digits larger than the previous record prime number" -- and it's one of just 51 known Mersenne prime numbers ever discovered. "GIMPS, founded in 1996, has discovered the last 17..."
Patrick Laroche is one of thousands of volunteers using GIMPS' free software to hunt for prime numbers -- and is now eligible for a $3,000 "research discovery award," the group writes at mersenne.org. "GIMPS' next major goal is to win the $150,000 award administered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation offered for finding a 100 million digit prime number" -- of which $50,000 will be awarded to the discoverer, with another $50,000 going to a 501(c)(3) mathematics-related charity selected by GIMPS, and $50,000 retained by GIMPS to cover expenses and fund other awards.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's not-in-Kansas-any-more department
An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press:
Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer's administration is seeking a way to donate or sell at a steep discount as much as $10 million in unused computer equipment that has been stored in a state office building since 2016. The state still owes $2 million on the equipment, which it bought in 2016 as part of a failed plan to develop a centralized storage system, call Kansas GovCloud, for computer information. That idea was canceled by state IT officials who said it was too expensive. Instead, the state contracts with an outside company to store data on remote servers.
Attempts to sell the equipment failed to attract bidders, leading to discussions about finding someone to take the equipment before its value dropped to the level of scrap metal, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the state allocated $17 million, including $10 million for the equipment, before dropping the storage idea. Selling it for pennies on the dollar or donating it to someone has merit, he said. "The point is, equipment after a while just becomes obsolete. If somebody can use it, great. If you can get some money out of it, fine," Holland said.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's 23-and-you department
schwit1 shared an interesting article from Bloomberg:
Though genetic tests are frequently marketed as family-friendly entertainment, they sometimes wind up surfacing life-altering surprises. And when those surprises show up in someone's test results, the first move is often a call to customer service.... At 23andMe, those types of calls are so frequent that preparing for them is integrated into the company's months-long training program.... "We always try to steer the conversation toward the data, tell them that this is science," said Kent Hillyer, head of customer care for the genetic-testing firm 23andMe...
Lindsay Grove, a customer-care representative at 23andMe, still remembers one call in particular years later, a dad who took the test only to find out that his child was not, in fact, his child. At first, like most, he was just trying to figure out whether the results were accurate. So Grove explained the science behind the data. The customer then became somber and quiet. He questioned whether he should talk to his wife, and, if he did, how.... "That process of figuring out what to do next is very difficult for customers...."
Such emotional calls can take a toll on employees, too. That's perhaps inevitable when technology interfaces with such sensitive, personal information.... At 23andMe, Hillyer often encourages representatives to go for a walk after an intense call, or cracks open a bottle of wine to help them decompress. "We kind of do these internal therapy sessions,'' he said. "Here, maybe more so than most places, you have to be really supportive of each other."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's blast-from-the-past department
Long-time Slashdot reader Mike Bouma shared Eurogamer's report about a rare Amiga 3000 auctioned on eBay:
Mike Clarke, who worked at legendary UK game company Psygnosis from 1992 to 1999 doing audio work, rescued this particular Amiga 3000 from destruction after it had been placed down in a corridor, ready to be thrown out. Over 20 years later, Clarke is selling it on eBay... According to Clarke, this Amiga 3000 was first used by artist Jeff Bramfitt, who scratched his initials in the top of the case in pen "just in case someone took it off his desk".
Bramfitt used the machine to work on the title screens for Carthage, Infestation, Shadow of the Beast 2 and more classic Amiga games, but its headline claim to fame is it was used to create the original Amiga Lemmings intro and logo. Lemmings, which came out for the Amiga in 1991, was developed by DMA Design (now Rockstar North) and published by Psygnosis before the latter was bought by Sony. Later, it was used for Microcosm (3DO, Mega-CD), Scavenger IV (aka Novastorm, Mega-CD, FM Towns), and unreleased games such as No Escape, a tie-in with the Ray Liotta film, aka Penal Colony for Mega-CD.
Files for all of these games and more remain on this Amiga 3000's hard drive. "I think the above games were all in 1993, which was a very busy year because we got bought by Sony and alongside working on games by third-party developers, Sony pushed all of these film licenses onto us and gave us almost no time to make them," Clarke said. This Amiga 3000 is not without its problems, however. The floppy drive doesn't work anymore and the hard drive is "temperamental", which means you might have issues booting the thing up.
After 16 bids, the Amiga sold for £1,850 -- about $2,300 USD -- plus another £170 ($215 USD) for shipping.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's you're-fired department
Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo shares this article from the Verge:
An autonomous food delivery robot burst into flames on a Berkeley, California walkway, as first reported by The Daily Californian. Kiwi, the startup that makes and manages the one hundred-strong fleet of robots, issued a statement to say that the fire was quickly extinguished by a passerby before the city's fire department arrived and doused the machine in foam.... It said that it believed the fire was caused by human error, when a faulty battery was manually inserted into the robot, eventually causing thermal runaway -- the same issue that resulted in the recall of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 phones. Kiwi says that a new piece of software will "rigorously monitor the state of each battery" to prevent anything like this from happening again.
Kiwi said the incident resulted in "some smoke and minor flames." But video captured of the event shows the robot engulfed in the kind of fiercely burning fireball typically associated with battery fires.
Though no one was hurt, Kiwi's fleet of 100 delivery robots was still deactivated while the company investigated the fiery wreck.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's downs-and-ups department
A Bloomberg columnist asks whether this week's rise in bitcoin's price is a turning point -- or just a "dead cat bounce"?
After hitting a year's low of about $3,143, down about 80 percent from January highs, Bitcoin has risen 27 percent this week. Short-sellers are closing their positions, while fans smell fresh opportunity. Even more eye-watering market moves are happening elsewhere in the digital currency's ecosystem. Bitcoin Cash, a spin-off intended to be more usable as a payments mechanism, has almost tripled this week from about $80 to $225. That this is happening at the same time as a U.S. stock-market selloff will no doubt warm the hearts of crypto-evangelists, who believe their currencies offer genuine alternatives for where to put money in times of trouble....
A cursory glance at the price of Bitcoin Cash over the past year shows that it has fallen about 95 percent from its December 2017 record. So, anyone refusing to crystallize their losses this year has seen their 98-percent loss narrow over the past few days to, well, 95 percent. Celebrating now is like the Monty Python knight calling it a draw after losing all his limbs. It's not entirely clear either what kind of investor has the appetite, let alone the resources, to make meaningful bets on digital currencies today after a boom-and-bust cycle driven entirely by speculative hype rather than the adoption of Bitcoin in the real world. The long-awaited wave of money from Wall Street looks as far away as ever. So we're probably getting back to more natural territory for crypto: True believers and small-time gamblers.
Their conclusion? "One still can't rule out that these particular crypto-cats are dead."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's sad-news department
Tim May, co-founder of the influential Cypherpunks mailing list and a significant influence on both bitcoin and WikiLeaks, passed away in mid-December at his home in Corralitos, California. The news was announced last Saturday on a Facebook post written by his friend Lucky Green. Long-time Slashdot reader SonicSpike quotes Reason:
In his influential 1988 essay, "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto," May predicted that advances in computer technology would eventually allow "individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other" anonymously and without government intrusion. "These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation [and] the ability to tax and control economic interactions," he wrote... Running 497 words, it was his most influential piece of writing... May became convinced that public-key cryptography combined with networked computing would break apart social power structures...
In September 1992, May and his friends Eric Hughes and Hugh Daniels came up with the idea of setting up an online mailing list to discuss their ideas. Within a few days of its launch, a hundred people had signed up for the Cypherpunks mailing list. (The group's name was coined by Hughes' girlfriend as a play on the "cyberpunk" genre of fiction.) By 1997, it averaged 30 messages daily with about 2,000 subscribers. May was its most prolific contributor. May and Hughes, along with free speech activist John Gilmore, wore masks on the cover of the second issue of Wired magazine accompanying a profile by journalist Steven Levy, who described the Cypherpunks as "more a gathering of those who share a predilection for codes, a passion for privacy, and the gumption to do something about it...."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was an active reader and participant on the list, contributing his first posts in 1995 under the name "Proff."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's work-smarter-not-harder department
Companies around the world have cut their work week down to just four days and found that it leads to higher productivity, more motivated staff and less burnout. Reuters highlights some of those companies: "It is much healthier and we do a better job if we're not working crazy hours," said Jan Schulz-Hofen, founder of Berlin-based project management software company Planio, who introduced a four-day week to the company's 10-member staff earlier this year. In New Zealand, trust company Perpetual Guardian reported a fall in stress and a jump in staff engagement after it tested a 32-hour week earlier this year. Lucie Greene, trends expert at consultancy J. Walter Thompson, said there was a growing backlash against overwork, underlined by a wave of criticism after Tesla boss Elon Musk tweeted that "nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week. People are starting to take a step back from the 24-hour digital life we have now and realize the mental health issues from being constantly connected to work," Greene said.
Schulz-Hofen, a 36-year-old software engineer, tested the four-day week on himself after realizing he needed to slow down following a decade of intense work launching Planio, whose tools allowed him to track his time in detail. "I didn't get less work done in four days than in five because in five days, you think you have more time, you take longer, you allow yourself to have more interruptions, you have your coffee a bit longer or chat with colleagues," Schulz-Hofen said. "I realized with four days, I have to be quick, I have to be focused if I want to have my free Friday." Schulz-Hofen and his team discussed various options before settling on everybody working Monday to Thursday. They rejected the idea of flexible hours because it adds administrative complexity, and were against a five-day week with shorter hours as it is too easy for overwork to creep back in.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sharing-is-caring department
Four months after a mysterious group was outed for a digital espionage operation that used novel techniques to target Mac users, its macOS malware samples continued to go undetected by most antivirus providers, a security researcher reported on Thursday. Ars Technica reports: Windshift is what researchers refer to as an APT -- short for "advanced persistent threat" -- that surveils individuals in the Middle East. The group operated in the shadows for two years until August, when Taha Karim, a researcher at security firm DarkMatter, profiled it at the Hack in the Box conference in Singapore. Slides, a brief description, and a report from Forbes are here, here and here, respectively.
On Thursday, Mac security expert Patrick Wardle published an analysis of Meeting_Agenda.zip, a file Karim had said installed the rare Mac malware. To Wardle's surprise, results from VirusTotal at the time showed that only two antivirus providers -- Kaspersky and ZoneAlarm -- detected the file as malicious. Wardle then used a feature that searched VirusTotal for related malicious files and found four more. Three of them weren't detected by any AV providers, while one was detected by only two providers. The reason the findings were so surprising is that Apple had already revoked the cryptographic certificate the developers used to digitally sign their malware. That meant Apple knew of the malware. In fairness, the control servers the malware contacts are no longer available on the Internet. That means any infected computers aren't in danger of being surveilled. Also in fairness, the number of detections has slowly risen in the day since Wardle published his analysis.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's evidence-lacking department
In September, JD.com's billionaire founder, Richard Liu, was accused of rape nearly four months ago by a young Chinese student at the University of Minnesota. He was reportedly in Minneapolis for his studies since he is a doctoral student at the university. According to The New York Times, "the Hennepin County attorney's office said that it did not find enough evidence to pursue a sexual assault case against Mr. Liu (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source)." From the report: The office of the Hennepin County Attorney said that it did not find enough evidence to pursue a case against Mr. Liu, a 45-year-old internet tycoon who was arrested by Minneapolis police in the early morning of Sept. 1 but was released within hours and allowed to return to China. The decision could bring Mr. Liu, who founded and leads the e-commerce behemoth JD.com, back to a more visible role at the company. JD.com's stock has slumped since the accusations were revealed, and Mr. Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, has skipped several public engagements.Read Replies (0)