By msmash from Slashdot's somethings-never-change department
Warner Bros is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, saying it's necessary to halt unauthorized commercial activity. From a report: Fans, however, liken the move to Dementors sucking the joy out of homegrown fun, while festival directors say they'll transfigure the events into generic celebrations of magic. "It's almost as if Warner Bros. has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town," said Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament that coincides with the annual suburban Philadelphia festival. Philip Dawson, Chestnut Hill's business district director, said Warner Bros. reached out to his group in May, letting them know new guidelines prohibit festivals' use of any names, places or objects from the series. That ruled out everything from meet-and-greet with Dumbledore and Harry to Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. Related story, from 18 years ago: Harry Potter Sites vs. Warner Brothers.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Among the more insidious gifts that video games have bestowed on modern culture is the loot box. The New Yorker: A loot box is like an in-game lottery ticket: for a small fee, involving real money, a player can purchase an assortment of items that promise to enhance the game experience. Loot boxes are an appealing source of income for game developers, and they've been integral to the rise of smartphone "freemium" games, which are free to download but can't be fully enjoyed unless the player pays for in-app boosts. For pretty much everyone else, loot boxes are a scourge. Players hate that they have to pay extra just to be competitive. Parents hate discovering, too late, that several hundred dollars in Clash Royale arena packs have been charged to their credit card. And, increasingly, government regulators are thinking that loot boxes look too much like gambling -- gambling aimed at kids, no less. Belgium and the Netherlands have banned in-game loot boxes as a form of gambling, and Minnesota recently introduced a bill that would ban the sale of games containing loot boxes to people under the age of eighteen. The concern isn't merely prudish. In a finding that will surprise virtually no one, psychologists in New Zealand have discovered that loot boxes do indeed bear troubling similarities to gambling. The researchers, led by Aaron Drummond, of Massey University, looked at twenty-two console games released between 2016 and 2017, from Overwatch and FIFA 18 to Madden N.F.L. 18 and Star Wars Battlefront II. They noted how closely the loot-box system of each game aligned with five standard psychological criteria for gambling, including whether the loot box must be bought with real money, whether it has tangible value in the game or can be cashed out, and whether its contents are randomly determined.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
A rising number of journals that claim to review submissions do not bother to do so. Not coincidentally, this seems to be leading some academics to inflate their publication lists with papers that might not pass such scrutiny. The Economist: Experts debate how many journals falsely claim to engage in peer review. Cabells, an analytics firm in Texas, has compiled a blacklist of those which it believes are guilty. According to Kathleen Berryman, who is in charge of this list, the firm employs 65 criteria to determine whether a journal should go on it -- though she is reluctant to go into details. Cabells' list now totals around 8,700 journals, up from a bit over 4,000 a year ago. Another list, which grew to around 12,000 journals, was compiled until recently by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado. Using Mr Beall's list, Bo-Christer Bjork, an information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics, in Helsinki, estimates that the number of articles published in questionable journals has ballooned from about 53,000 a year in 2010 to more than 400,000 today. He estimates that 6% of academic papers by researchers in America appear in such journals.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's back-to-the-browser department
Another high-profile endorsement for Firefox -- this time from the lead consumer technology writer for The New York Times. (Alternate link here).
The web has reached a new low. It has become an annoying, often toxic and occasionally unsafe place to hang out. More important, it has become an unfair trade: You give up your privacy online, and what you get in return are somewhat convenient services and hyper-targeted ads. That's why it may be time to try a different browser.
Remember Firefox...? About two years ago, six Mozilla employees were huddled around a bonfire one night in Santa Cruz, Calif., when they began discussing the state of web browsers. Eventually, they concluded there was a "crisis of confidence" in the web. "If they don't trust the web, they won't use the web," Mark Mayo, Mozilla's chief product officer, said in an interview.... After testing Firefox for the last three months, I found it to be on a par with Chrome in most categories. In the end, Firefox's thoughtful privacy features persuaded me to make the switch and make it my primary browser.
The Times cites privacy features like Firefox's "Facebook Container," which prevents Facebook from tracking you after you've left their site.
While both Chrome and Firefox have tough security (including sandboxing), Cooper Quintin, a security researcher for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells the Times that Google "is fundamentally an advertising company, so it's unlikely that they will ever have a business interest in making Chrome more privacy friendly."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's free-as-in-labor department
"Open source maintainers are exhausted and rarely paid," writes TechCrunch's editorial manager. "A new generation wants to change the economics."
An anonymous reader quotes their report:
Tidelift is designed to offer assurances "around areas like security, licensing, and maintenance of software," CEO Donald Fischer explained... In addition, Tidelift handles the mundane tasks of setting up open source for commercialization such as handling licensing issues... Open Collective wants to open source the monetization of open source itself. Open Collective is a non-profit platform that provides tools to "collectives" to receive money while also offering mechanisms to allow the members of those collectives to spend their money in a democratic and transparent way.
TechCrunch warns that "It's not just that people are free riding, it's often that they don't even realize it. Software engineers can easily forget just how much craftsmanship has gone into the open source code that powers the most basic of applications...
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's meet-the-midi-chlorians department
In an interview with James Cameron, George Lucas reveals what he'd planed for the final three Star Wars films:
"[The next three 'Star Wars' films] were going to get into a microbiotic world," he told Cameron. "There's this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force...." In terms of his storytelling, Lucas regarded individuals as "vehicles for the Whills to travel around in... And the conduit is the midi-chlorians. The midi-chlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force."
Lucas is confident that had he kept his company, the Whills-focused films "would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did 'Phantom Menace' and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told."
Lucas acknowledges in the interview that "Everybody hated it in 'Phantom Menace' [when] we started talking about midi-chlorians," prompting one Ars Technica editor to add "Because it was a really dumb idea." He speculates that if the final three Star Wars movies followed Lucas's original plan, "Imagine, if you can, our heroes shrinking down like the Fantastic Voyage to go meet some midi-chlorians."
Knowing Lucas's plans for the franchise "should make every Star Wars fan send a note of gratitude to whoever at Disney decided to buy the franchise and take it away and out from under Lucas' control."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Nathan-vs-NASA department
An anonymous reader quotes Qz:
NASA is not going to be able to find all the asteroids big enough to cause serious devastation on Earth by 2020 -- or even 2033. Also: For a hypothetical attempt to send a spacecraft to divert an seriously dangerous incoming asteroid, we'll need a ten year heads-up to build it and get it to the asteroid.
The good news? They're working on it. "If a real threat does arise, we are prepared to pull together the information about what options might work and provide that information to decision-makers," Lindley Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer, told reporters.
But NASA's methodology is now being criticized by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold -- in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus. An anonymous reader quotes Scientific American:
Since 2016, Nathan Myhrvold has argued that there are fatal flaws in the data from NASA's NEOWISE mission to hunt space rocks... NASA is working to develop a follow-up space telescope that would use the same scientific approach to fulfill a mandate from the US Congress to discover nearly all of the space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth.
After 18 months of peer review, and plenty of acrimony on both sides, Myhrvold's latest critique appeared on 22 May on the website of the journal Icarus. Among other things, he argues that NEOWISE estimates of asteroid diameters should not be trusted -- a crucial challenge, because the size of an asteroid determines how much damage it would cause if it hit Earth. "These observations are the best we're going to have for a very long time," says Myhrvold. "And they weren't really analysed very well at all."
NASA hasn't responded in detail to Myhrvold's criticism, though a June 14th statement said their team "stands by its data and scientific findings," noting that they'd also been published in several peer-reviewed journals.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's zero-cool department
America's Department of Defense "has quietly empowered the United States Cyber Command to take a far more aggressive approach to defending the nation against cyberattacks, a shift in strategy that could increase the risk of conflict with the foreign states that sponsor malicious hacking groups," reports the New York Times. Long-time Slashdot reader TheSauce shares their report:
In the spring, as the Pentagon elevated the command's status, it opened the door to nearly daily raids on foreign networks, seeking to disable cyberweapons before they can be unleashed, according to strategy documents and military and intelligence officials... The new strategy envisions constant, disruptive "short of war" activities in foreign computer networks... "Continuous engagement imposes tactical friction and strategic costs on our adversaries, compelling them to shift resources to defense and reduce attacks"...
The risks of escalation -- of U.S. action in foreign networks leading to retaliatory strikes against U.S. banks, dams, financial markets or communications networks -- are considerable, according to current and former officials... The chief risk is that the internet becomes a battleground of all-against-all, as nations not only place "implants" in the networks of their adversaries -- something the United States, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have done with varying levels of sophistication -- but also begin to engage in daily attack and counterattack.
An article shared by schwit1 notes that officials in the Obama administration "were also worried that a vigorous cyber response...could escalate into a full scale cyber war."
Yet the Times reports that this new policy reflects "a widespread view that the United States has mounted an inadequate defense against the rising number of attacks aimed at America."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's bleep-bleep-bloop-play-ball department
Long-time Slashdot reader Esther Schindler writes: Everyone who watches sports spends some amount of time yelling at the umpire or sports referee. For the past few years we've also been shouting, "Replace that ump with a robot!"
But is it technically feasible? Is the current level of AI and robotics tech up to the job? This article starts with the assumption that someone seriously wants to create a robot umpire or sports referee and then evaluates whether it possible to build an accurate and trustworthy augmented reality solution today.
The article points out that professional tennis matches already apply AI to high-definition video feeds from up to six different cameras to dispense binding judgments on whether a ball was in or out. At the same time, not every officiating decision in every sport is so easily automated, since AI "can't yet handle calls that hinge on judgment of players' intent."
But there's a larger question: do we really want to remove those human watchers from our sports? "Sports is a human activity," argues a professor of social sciences at Cardiff University in Wales, suggesting that human officials continue a cultural tradition which reminds us of who we are. "Humans are imperfect; that's OK."
What do Slashdot's readers think? Should professional sports switch to robot referees?Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Turing-tests department
DevNull127 writes: A grateful reporter whose father-in-law liberated a concentration camp after D-Day reports on a high-tech team that "accomplished in 13 minutes what took Alan Turing years to do — and at a cost of just $7."
"In late 2017, at the Imperial War Museum in London, developers applied modern AI techniques to break the 'unbreakable' Enigma machine used by the Nazis to encrypt their correspondences in World War II."
Two Polish co-founders of a company called Enigma Pattern decided to honor Alan Turing's ground-breaking work at Bletchley Park, where Turing had automated the testing of over 15 billion possible passwords each day by building what's considered the first modern computer. They took the problem to a modern cloud infrastructure provider, renting what one describes as "2,000 minions that do the tedious work" — specifically, crunching 41 million combinations each second — using Grimm's Fairy Tales to train an algorithm to recognize when they had found a commonly-used German word (including familiar bedtime stories like Hansel & Gretl and Rumpelstiltskin). "In the end the AI could not understand German. But it did what machine learning does best: recognize patterns."
"After 13 minutes of minion work, boom! The new Bombe had broken the code."
Turing's birthday is Saturday — and it's nice to see him being remembered so fondly.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's installment-plans department
A reminder for commenters: non-commercial use of Java remains free. An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld:
Oracle has revamped its commercial support program for Java SE (Standard Edition), opting for a subscription model instead of one that has had businesses paying for a one-time perpetual license plus an annual support fee... It is required for Java SE 8, and includes support for Java SE 7. (As of January 2019, Oracle will require a subscription for businesses to continue getting updates to Java SE 8.)
The price is $25 per month per processor for servers and cloud instances, with volume discounts available. For PCs, the price starts at $2.50 per month per user, again with volume discounts. One-, two-, and three-year subscriptions are available... The previous pricing for the Java SE Advanced program cost $5,000 for a license for each server processor plus a $1,100 annual support fee per server processor, as well as $110 one-time license fee per named user and a $22 annual support fee per named user (each processor has a ten-user minimum)...
If users do not renew a subscription, they lose rights to any commercial software downloaded during the subscription. Access to Oracle Premier Support also ends. Oracle recommends that those choosing not to renew transition to OpenJDK binaries from the company, offered under the GPL, before their subscription ends. Doing so will let users keep running applications uninterrupted.
Oracle's senior director of product management stresses that the company is "working to make the Oracle JDK and OpenJDK builds from Oracle interchangeable -- targeting developers and organisations that do not want commercial support or enterprise management tools."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's taking-licenses department
An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet:
When leading Linux company Red Hat announces that -- from here on out -- all new Red Hat-initiated open-source projects that use the GNU General Public License (GPLv2) or GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) v2.1 licenses will be expected to supplement the license with GPL version 3 (GPLv3)'s cure commitment language, it's a big deal. Both older open-source licenses are widely used.
When the GPLv3 was released, it came with an express termination approach that offered developers the chance to cure license compliance errors. This termination policy in GPLv3 provided a way for companies to repair licensing errors and mistakes... Other companies -- CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, Microsoft, SAP, and SUSE -- have taken similar GPL positions... In its new position statement, Red Hat explained that the GPLv2 and LGPL, as written, has led to the belief that automatic license termination and copyright infringement claims can result from a single act of inadvertent non-compliance.
"We hope that others will also join in this endeavor," says Red Hat's senior commercial counsel, Richard Fontana, "to reassure the open source community that good faith efforts to fix noncompliance will be embraced."
ZDNet points out that the move to new licenses "doesn't apply, of course, to Linux itself. Linus Torvalds has made it abundantly clear that Linux has been, will now, and always shall be under the GPLv2."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's third-party-favors department
U.S. states can now require online retailers to collect local sales taxes, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling that could affect thousands of third-party sellers on top tech sites. An anonymous reader quotes The Verge:
In fact, Amazon, which last year started collecting sales tax in all 45 states that require it by law, may have a substantial amount of work to do to help its Amazon Marketplace sellers stay compliant. Yet we don't know if that burden will fall primarily on Amazon or if it will be the responsibility of the sellers. More than 50 percent of all sales on the site are conducted via third-party sellers, some of which use Amazon for fulfillment but otherwise operate independent small- to medium-sized businesses... Etsy, eBay, and others are in similar boats. According to the US Government Accountability Office, as much as $13 billion in annual sales tax revenue is at stake....
Etsy is concerned about what it sees as "significant complexities in the thousands of state and local sales tax laws" and that by overruling the Quill decision, the Supreme Court has put the ball in Congress' court. "We believe there is now a call to action for Congress to create a simple, fair federal solution for micro-businesses," Silverman added.
The Verge writes that "the case may be litigated for years to come to figure out how to account for the over 10,000 state jurisdictions that govern sales tax across the country. That is, unless congressional legislation supersedes the state court decisions... Even groups that were in favor of the ruling, like the nonpartisan research institute the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, are imploring Congress to act."
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