By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are screens coming between doctors and patients? Here's an excerpt by Atul Gawande of The New Yorker, which talks about the deployment of Epic, a new medical software which cost Partners HealthCare a staggering $1.6 billion, panned out: On May 30, 2015, the Phase One Go-Live began. My hospital and clinics reduced the number of admissions and appointment slots for two weeks while the staff navigated the new system. For another two weeks, my department doubled the time allocated for appointments and procedures in order to accommodate our learning curve. This, I discovered, was the real reason the upgrade cost $1.6 billion. The software costs were under a hundred million dollars. The bulk of the expenses came from lost patient revenues and all the tech-support personnel and other people needed during the implementation phase. In the first five weeks, the I.T. folks logged twenty-seven thousand help-desk tickets -- three for every two users. Most were basic how-to questions; a few involved major technical glitches. Printing problems abounded. Many patient medications and instructions hadn't transferred accurately from our old system. My hospital had to hire hundreds of moonlighting residents and pharmacists to double-check the medication list for every patient while technicians worked to fix the data-transfer problem. Many of the angriest complaints, however, were due to problems rooted in what Sumit Rana, a senior vice-president at Epic, called "the Revenge of the Ancillaries." In building a given function -- say, an order form for a brain MRI -- the design choices were more political than technical: administrative staff and doctors had different views about what should be included. The doctors were used to having all the votes. But Epic had arranged meetings to try to adjudicate these differences. Now the staff had a say (and sometimes the doctors didn't even show), and they added questions that made their jobs easier but other jobs more time-consuming. Questions that doctors had routinely skipped now stopped them short, with "field required" alerts. A simple request might now involve filling out a detailed form that took away precious minutes of time with patients.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department
A new proof from the Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan and a 2011 proof anonymously posted online are now being hailed as significant advances on a puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years. Erica Klarreich, writing for Quanta Magazine: On September 16, 2011, an anime fan posted a math question to the online bulletin board 4chan about the cult classic television series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya . Season one of the show, which involves time travel, had originally aired in nonchronological order, and a re-broadcast and a DVD version had each further rearranged the episodes. Fans were arguing online about the best order to watch the episodes, and the 4chan poster wondered: If viewers wanted to see the series in every possible order, what is the shortest list of episodes they'd have to watch? In less than an hour, an anonymous person offered an answer -- not a complete solution, but a lower bound on the number of episodes required. The argument, which covered series with any number of episodes, showed that for the 14-episode first season of Haruhi, viewers would have to watch at least 93,884,313,611 episodes to see all possible orderings. "Please look over [the proof] for any loopholes I might have missed," the anonymous poster wrote. The proof slipped under the radar of the mathematics community for seven years -- apparently only one professional mathematician spotted it at the time, and he didn't check it carefully. But in a plot twist last month, the Australian science fiction novelist Greg Egan proved a new upper bound on the number of episodes required. Egan's discovery renewed interest in the problem and drew attention to the lower bound posted anonymously in 2011. Both proofs are now being hailed as significant advances on a puzzle mathematicians have been studying for at least 25 years. Mathematicians quickly verified Egan's upper bound, which, like the lower bound, applies to series of any length. Then Robin Houston, a mathematician at the data visualization firm Kiln, and Jay Pantone of Marquette University in Milwaukee independently verified the work of the anonymous 4chan poster. Now, Houston and Pantone, joined by Vince Vatter of the University of Florida in Gainesville, have written up the formal argument. In their paper, they list the first author as "Anonymous 4chan Poster."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's consume-with-pinch-of-salt department
A strange interstellar object that invaded our solar system and passed close to Earth in the fall of 2017 could have been an artificial object, a piece of a spacecraft from an alien civilization, Harvard researchers are suggesting in a new paper [PDF]. From a report: "There is data on the orbit of this object for which there is no other explanation. So we wrote this paper suggesting this explanation," said Professor Avi Loeb, chairman of the Harvard astronomy department. "The approach I take to the subject is purely scientific and evidence-based. As far as I know, there is no other explanation. You can rule it out or in, based on additional data." He said the study had been accepted for publication in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Nov. 12. The paper, written by Loeb and postdoctoral researcher Shmuel Bialy, suggests the object might be a light sail, or solar sail -- a proposed method of powering spacecraft that uses a sail to catch radiation pressure and propel the spacecraft, just as a normal sail uses the wind to propel a boat. The object 'Oumuamua -- Hawaiian for "messenger from afar arriving first" -- is the first ever observed intruding in the orbits of our planets. It was picked up by telescopes in October 2017 at the University of Hawaii's Haleakala Observatory, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said. It is on its way out of the solar system and expected to never return. Scientists say other "interstellar" objects may have sailed by in the past, undetected. The object raised eyebrows. It was monitored for signs of radio signals as weak as one-tenth of a cellphone-strength signal, but nothing was detected. Researchers said in December 2017 that it appeared to be a naturally formed, icy object covered with a dry crust. Further reading: Interstellar Visitor 'Oumuamua Is a Comet After All (June 2018), Scientists say mysterious 'Oumuamua' object could be an alien spacecraft, and Cigar-shaped interstellar object may have been an alien probe, Harvard paper claims.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's electricity-per-dollar department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The amount of energy required to "mine" one dollar's worth of bitcoin is more than twice that required to mine the same value of copper, gold or platinum, according to a new paper, suggesting that the virtual work that underpins bitcoin, ethereum and similar projects is more similar to real mining than anyone intended. One dollar's worth of bitcoin takes about 17 megajoules of energy to mine, according to researchers from the Oak Ridge Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, compared with four, five and seven megajoules for copper, gold and platinum.
Other cryptocurrencies also fair poorly in comparison, the researchers write in the journal Nature Sustainability, ascribing a cost-per-dollar of 7MJ for ethereum and 14MJ for the privacy focused cryptocurrency monero. But all the cryptocurrencies examined come off well compared with aluminium, which takes an astonishing 122MJ to mine one dollar's worth of ore. [...] To account for the wild fluctuations in cryptocurrency price, and therefore effort expended by miners, the researchers used a median of all the values between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018, and attempted to account for the geographic dispersal of bitcoin miners. "Any cryptocurrency mined in China would generate four times the amount of CO2 compared to the amount generated in Canada," they write, highlighting the importance of such country-dependent accounting.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's better-safe-than-sorry department
Next year when SpaceX starts shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS, the company will be using its Go Searcher ocean vessel to recover SpaceX's crewed Dragon capsules that splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. "The ship is now equipped for a worst-case-scenario with medical treatment facilities and a helipad, in case returning astronauts need to be evacuated quickly to a hospital," reports The Verge. From the report: Go Searcher is part of a fleet of ocean vessels that SpaceX has acquired over the years to aid in its spaceflight efforts. The most famous of these are SpaceX's autonomous drone ships, which are used as landing pads when the company's Falcon 9 rockets are recovered in the ocean after launches. Go Searcher used to accompany these drone ships when they were tugged back to shore as a support vessel. But at the end of summer, SpaceX gave Go Searcher a suite of upgrades -- including the addition of a helipad and a radar dome -- to make sure the boat can swiftly recover Dragon capsules that carry astronauts back to Earth.
As part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has been developing the Crew Dragon capsule to take astronauts to the ISS. And the company is also responsible for getting these crews safely back to Earth. When astronauts need to return home, the plan is for the Crew Dragon to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. During an ideal mission, Go Searcher will lift the Crew Dragon out of the water with a crane, attached to the end of the boat, according to NASA. The capsule will then be hauled onto the deck of Go Searcher, and the astronauts will be evaluated by doctors from SpaceX and NASA. But if something goes awry during the landing, astronauts can be airlifted directly off the boat via helicopter and taken to a hospital. The helicopter will also carry medical emergency personnel.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's can't-come-soon-enough department
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday wrote the chief executives of major telephone service providers and other companies, demanding they launch a system no later than 2019 to combat billions of "robocalls" and other nuisance calls received by American consumers. Reuters reports: In May, Pai called on companies to adopt an industry-developed "call authentication system" or standard for the cryptographic signing of telephone calls aimed at ending the use of illegitimate spoofed numbers from the telephone system. Monday's letters seek answers by Nov. 19 on the status of those efforts.
The letters went to 13 companies including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Alphabet, Comcast, Cox, Sprint, CenturyLink, Charter, Bandwith and others. Pai's letters raised concerns about some companies current efforts including Sprint, CenturyLink, Charter, Vonage, Telephone and Data Systems and its U.S. Celullar unit and Frontier. The letters to those firms said they do "not yet have concrete plans to implement a robust call authentication framework," citing FCC staff. The authentication framework "digitally validates the handoff of phone calls passing through the complex web of networks, allowing the phone company of the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is from the person supposedly making it," the FCC said.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's verify-to-continue department
China's Tencent will soon require gamers to prove their ages and identities against police records, according to a new official statement yesterday. Under the new system, users will need to register their Chinese national IDs in order to play any games from Tencent. The Verge reports: Ten mobile games will get the new verification system by the end of the year, and all games offered by Tencent, including PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and League of Legends, will get the system by 2019. Tencent has been criticized by state-run People's Daily, which called Arena of Valor "poison," after reports that students were ditching their homework to play the mobile game.
Tencent has also faced direct regulatory pressure this summer, after President Xi Jinping pointed out that too many children were nearsighted and said the government was taking action. Beijing officially ruled to ban new games, cementing an unofficial pause that started back in March, costing Tencent up to $1.5 billion in lost revenue as it was unable to launch games it had been developing. In September, Tencent imposed the new verification system on Arena of Valor and created a feature that blurs the screen if minors look too closely at it. The new system simply enforces rules that Tencent had in place since last year: barring gamers who are 12 and under from playing more than an hour a day and establishing a curfew of 9PM. Those who are 13 to 18 can play up to two hours a day. Still, the system won't prevent minors from borrowing the phones of their parents and other adults.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's I-need-a-drink department
Longtime Slashdot reader King_TJ writes: I've worked in I.T. for almost 30 years now in various capacities, from bench PC technician to web page designer, support specialist, network manager, and was self-employed for a while doing on-site service and consulting too. In all that time, I've always felt like I had a good handle on troubleshooting and problem-solving while providing good, friendly customer service at the same time. But recently, I've started feeling like there's just a little too much knowledge to keep straight in my brain. If I'm able to work on a project on my own terms, without interruptions or distractions? Sure, I can get almost anything figured out. But it's the stress of users needing immediate assistance with random problems, thrown out willy-nilly in the constant barrage of trouble tickets, that I'm starting to struggle with. For example, just this morning, a user had a question about whether or not she should open an email about quarantined junk mail to actually look through it. I briefly noted a screenshot she attached that showed a typical MS Office quarantined email message and replied that she could absolutely view them at her discretion. (I also noted that I tend to ignore and delete those myself, unless I'm actually expecting a specific piece of email that I didn't receive -- in case it was actually in the junk mail filter.) Well, that was the wrong answer, because that message was a nicely done phishing attempt; not a legit message -- and she tried to sign in through it. Then, I had to do a mad scramble to change her password and help her get the new one working on her phone and computer. With more time to think about what happened, I'm realizing now that I should have known the email was fake because we recently made some changes to our Office 365 environment so junk mail is going directly into Junk folders in Outlook -- and those types of messages aren't really coming in to people anymore. On top of that? We're trying to migrate people to using two-factor authentication so I was instructed to get this user on it while I'm changing her account info. Makes sense, but I had to dig all over to find our document with instructions on how to do that too. I just couldn't remember where they told me they saved the thing, several weeks ago, when they talked about creating the new document in one of our weekly meetings. Am I just getting old and starting to lose it? Is everybody feeling this way about I.T. support these days? Are things just changing at too quick a pace for anyone to stay on top of it all? I mean, in just the last few weeks, we've dealt with users failing to get their single sign-on passwords to work because something broke that only an upgrade to the latest build of Windows 10 corrected. We've had an office network go berserk and randomly drop people's Internet access, ability to print, etc. -- because one of the switches started intermittently failing under load. We've had online training to set up a new MDM solution, company-wide. And I had to single-handedly set up a new server running the latest version of vCenter for our ESXi servers. And all of that is while trying to get in some studying on the side to get my Security Plus cert., getting Macs with broken screens mailed out for service, a couple of new computers deployed, and accounts properly shut down for an employee who left, plus the usual grind of "mindless" tickets like requests to create new shared DropBox team folders for groups. It's a LOT to juggle, but I was pretty happy with my ability to keep all of it moving right along for years. Now -- I'm starting to have doubts.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's he-said-she-said department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: An unexpected declaration by whistleblower Edward Snowden filed in court [last] week adds a new twist in a long-running lawsuit against the NSA's surveillance programs. The case, filed by the EFF a decade ago, seeks to challenge the government's alleged illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of Americans, who are largely covered under the Fourth Amendment's protections against warrantless searches and seizures. It's a big step forward for the case, which had stalled largely because the government refused to confirm that a leaked document was authentic or accurate. News of the surveillance broke in 2006 when an AT&T technician Mark Klein revealed that the NSA was tapping into AT&T's network backbone. He alleged that a secret, locked room -- dubbed Room 641A -- in an AT&T facility in San Francisco where he worked was one of many around the U.S. used by the government to monitor communications -- domestic and overseas. President George W. Bush authorized the NSA to secretly wiretap Americans' communications shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Much of the EFF's complaint relied on Klein's testimony until 2013, when Snowden, a former NSA contractor, came forward with new revelations that described and detailed the vast scope of the U.S. government's surveillance capabilities, which included participation from other phone giants -- including Verizon (TechCrunch's parent company). Snowden's signed declaration, filed on October 31, confirms that one of the documents he leaked, which the EFF relied heavily on for its case, is an authentic draft document written by the then-NSA inspector general in 2009, which exposed concerns about the legality of the Bush's warrantless surveillance program -- Stellar Wind -- particularly the collection of bulk email records on Americans. "I read its contents carefully during my employment," he said in his declaration. "I have a specific and strong recollection of this document because it indicated to me that the government had been conducting illegal surveillance."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sign-of-the-times department
Amazon is hiring around 100,000 additional employees this holiday season, which is fewer than the company added in either the 2016 or 2017 holiday seasons, when it brought in 120,000 additional workers. "Citi analyst Mark May says he thinks the reduction in seasonal hiring is strong evidence that Amazon is succeeding with plans to automate operations in its warehouses," reports Quartz. From the report: "We've seen an acceleration in the use of robots within their fulfillment centers, and that has corresponded with fewer and fewer workers that they're hiring around the holidays," May told CNBC. He added that 2018 is the "first time on record" Amazon plans to hire fewer holiday workers than it did the previous year. "Since the last holiday season, we've focused on more ongoing full-time hiring in our fulfillment centers and other facilities," Amazon spokesperson Ashley Robinson said in an email, adding that the company has "created over 130,000 jobs" in the last year. "We are proud to have created over 130,000 new jobs in the last year alone."
Amazon bought robotics company Kiva Systems for $775 million in 2012, and began using its orange robots in warehouses in late 2014. By mid-2016, it had become clear just how big a difference those robots were making. The little orange guys could handle in 15 minutes the sorting, picking, packing, and shipping that used to take human workers an hour or more to complete. In June 2016, Deutsche Bank predicted Kiva automation could save Amazon nearly $2.5 billion (those savings dropped to $880 million after accounting for the costs of installing robots in every warehouse).Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's i-Spy department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a virtual reality (VR) experience on its website today that teaches people how to spot and understand the surveillance technologies police are increasingly using to spy on communities. Spot the Surveillance, which works best with a VR headset but will also work on standard browsers, places users in a 360-degree street scene in San Francisco. In the scene, a young resident is in an encounter with police. Users are challenged to identify surveillance tools by looking around the scene. The experience takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. The surveillance technologies featured in the scene include a body-worn camera, automated license plate readers, a drone, a mobile biometric device, and pan-tilt-zoom cameras. The project draws from years of research gathered by EFF in its Street-Level Surveillance project, which shines a light on how police use, and abuse, technology to spy on communities.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
Google wants NASA to help it prove quantum supremacy within a matter of months, MIT Technology Review reported Monday, citing the Space Act Agreement. From the report: Quantum supremacy is the idea, so far undemonstrated, that a sufficiently powerful quantum computer will be able to complete certain mathematical calculations that classical supercomputers cannot. Proving it would be a big deal because it could kick-start a market for devices that might one day crack previously unbreakable codes, boost AI, improve weather forecasts, or model molecular interactions and financial systems in exquisite detail. The agreement, signed in July, calls on NASA to "analyze results from quantum circuits run on Google quantum processors, and ... provide comparisons with classical simulation to both support Google in validating its hardware and establish a baseline for quantum supremacy." Google confirmed to MIT Technology Review that the agreement covered its latest 72-qubit quantum chip, called Bristlecone. Where classical computers store information in binary bits that definitely represent either 1 or 0, quantum computers use qubits that exist in an undefined state between 1 and 0. For some problems, using qubits should quickly provide solutions that could take classical computers much longer to compute.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's information-wants-to-be-free department
Two of the world's largest biomedical research funders have backed a plan to make all papers resulting from work they fund open access on publication by 2020. From a report: On 5 November, the London-based Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, announced they were both endorsing 'Plan S,' adding their weight to an initiative already backed by 13 research funders across Europe since its launch in September. The plan was spearheaded by Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission's special envoy on open access. The Wellcome Trust, which gave out $1.4 billion in grants in 2016-17, is also the first funder to detail how it intends to implement Plan S. Its approach suggests that journals may not need to switch wholesale to open-access (OA) models by 2020 to be compliant with Plan S -- if the initiative's other backers decide on a similar line. The biomedical charity already has an OA policy, but in some cases it allows an embargo of up to six months after publication before papers have to be made free to read. The organization says that by 1 January 2020, it will ban all such embargoes. Wellcome-funded work will not be able to appear in Nature, Science and other influential subscription journals unless these publications permit Wellcome-funded papers to be published under OA terms. Researchers that the charity funds could still publish in subscription journals, says Robert Kiley, Wellcome's head of open research. But only if those journals agree that the authors can immediately deposit their accepted manuscript in the PubMed Central repository under a liberal publishing licence. Some publishers, such as the Royal Society in London, already allow this.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Amazon plans to split its second headquarters evenly between two locations rather than picking one city for HQ2, WSJ reported Monday, citing a person familiar with the matter, a surprise decision that will spread the impact of a massive new office across two communities. From the report: The driving force behind the decision to build two equal offices in addition to the company's headquarters in Seattle is recruiting enough tech talent, according to the person familiar with the company's plans. The move will also ease potential issues with housing, transit and other areas where adding tens of thousands of workers could cause problems. [...] The report, published Monday, did not specify the locations Amazon is exploring, but on Sunday, the newspaper had reported that the ecommerce giant was in late-stage discussions with Crystal City in Virginia, Dallas and New York City. [The aforementioned link may be paywalled; here's an alternative source.]Read Replies (0)