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2016 Winners Announced For Interactive Fiction Competition
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 07:51 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's twisty-passages department:
An anonymous reader writes:
This week IFComp 2016 announced the winners in their 22nd annual interactive fiction competition. After a seven-week play period, the entry with the highest average rating was "the noir standout 'Detectiveland' by Robin Johnson," according to contest organizers (while the game earning the lowest score was "Toiletworld.") A special prize is also awarded each year -- the Golden Banana of Discord -- for the game which provoked the most wildly different ratings. This year that award went to "A Time of Tungsten" by Devin Raposo. ("The walls are high, the hole is deep. She is trapped, on a distant planet. Watched. She may not survive...")

The games will soon be released on the official IF Archive site, but in the meantime you can download a 222-megabyte archive of all 58 games.

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Ask Slashdot: Could A 'Smart Firewall' Protect IoT Devices?
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 05:12 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's home-network-of-things department:
To protect our home networks from IoT cracking, Ceaus wants to see a smart firewall:

It's a small box (the size of a Raspberry Pi) with two ethernet ports you put in front of your ISP router. This firewall is capable of detecting your IoT devices and blocking their access to the internet, only and exclusively allowing traffic for the associated mobile app (if there is one). All other outgoing IoT traffic is blocked... Once you've plugged in your new IoT toaster, you press the "Scan" button on the firewall and it does the rest for you.
This would also block "snooping" from outside your home network, and of course, keep your devices off botnets. The original submission asks "Does such a firewall exist? Is this a possible Kickstarter project?" So leave your best answers in the comments. Could a smart firewall protect IoT devices?

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One Third of California's Trees Are Dead
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 03:42 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's can't-see-the-forest department:
"There are about 21 million acres of trees spread across California's 18 national forests, and the latest figures show 7.7 million of them -- more than one-third -- are dead." An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle:

California's lingering drought has pushed the number of dead trees across the state past 100 million, an ecological event experts are calling dangerous and unprecedented in underlining the heightened risk of wildfires fueled by bone-dry forests. In its latest aerial survey released Friday, the U.S. Forest Service said 62 million trees have died this year in California, bringing the six-year total to more than 102 million.

Scientists blame five-plus years of drought on the increasing tree deaths -- tree "fatalities" increased by 100 percent in 2016 -- but the rate of their demise has been much faster than expected, increasing the risk of ecologically damaging erosion and wildfires even bigger than the largest blazes the state's seen this year.

An ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey says that on the bright side, this gives scientists a good chance to study how trees die.

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Google Opens Real-World 'Google Shops' in Canada
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 02:28 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Google's-earth department:
Streetlight writes:
Google is moving towards a physical presence in Best Buy stores...mimicking what Samsung has done. Hopefully the "stores" are staffed with competent professionals that know what they're selling and maybe provide some help to those who have purchased Google's hardware and software.
Google "is launching a store-within-a-store debuting in North America at select Best Buy locations in Canada," reports TechCrunch, adding that recently "Google also revealed that it would be creating a pop-up Experience Store for users to check out its new wares in New York City."

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Humble Bundle Supports The EFF With A LEGO eBook Sale
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 12:42 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's building-block-book-bundles department:
The EFF is describing it as "a break for your brain." An anonymous reader writes:
Humble Bundle has announced a special "pay what you want" sale for four ebooks about LEGO from No Starch Press, with proceeds going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or to the charity of your choice. The ebooks include Beautiful LEGO (a compendium of creations by dozens of artists) and Medieval LEGO, which describes and recreates English history in the Middle Ages using LEGO blocks. Contributors who pay more than $8 also receive six more books, including "Forbidden LEGO" a more free-style building guide that one reviewer called "The Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery," as well as "The Cult of LEGO", a tour of the block-building community. And for a $15 donation, contributors receive six more ebooks -- bringing the total to 16 -- including The LEGO Christmas Ornaments Book and Steampunk LEGO.

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Spammers Compromised Popular Twitter Accounts Including Viacom And Microsoft Xbox
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 12:42 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's noxious-notifications department:
"A number of popular Twitter accounts suddenly wanted to help you add more followers," joked Engadget. An anonymous reader writes:
Early Saturday morning, due to a breach of the Twitter Counter analytics service, the compromised Twitter accounts started posting images touting services that sell Twitter followers. The affected accounts include @PlayStation, @Viacom, @XboxSupport, @TheNewYorker, @TheNextWeb, and @Money (Time's finance magazine) as well as @NTSB (the National Transportation Safety Board) and @ICRC (the Red Cross), and the Twitter accounts of famous individuals include astronaut Leland Melvin, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, and actor Charlie Sheen. "We can confirm that our service has been hacked; allowing posts on behalf of our user," Twitter Counter posted Saturday, announcing minutes later that "hackers CANNOT post on our users' behalf anymore."

"Apologies for the spam, everyone," tweeted the account for Xbox support, adding "We're cleaning things up now."

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London's Mayor Wants Volkswagen To Pay $3 Million In Lost Tolls
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 11:20 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's not-so-clean-air department:
dkatana writes: Since the U.K. government has done nothing to make Volkswagen pay for Dieselgate, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is asking VW to come up with 2.5 million pounds ($3 million) to compensate the city and its residents for the 80,000 diesel cars fitted with cheat devices. "I want to see a proper commitment from them [VW] to fully compensate the thousands of Londoners who bought Volkswagen cars in good faith, but whose diesel engines are now contributing to London's killer air."

The money will be used to fund a new air-quality program for London's schoolchildren, and Mayor Khan is also asking the government to create "a national diesel scrappage" program to help replace vehicles.

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A Windows 10 Alternative: Ubuntu-Based Zorin OS Linux Distro
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 10:01 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's GUI-goodness department:
"With a click of a button, you can change the desktop layout to match that of Windows versions and Gnome 3. The Ultimate edition...also features Ubuntu, Gnome 2 and macOS-like layouts." BrianFagioli shares an article about a Linux-based operating system "designed for Windows-switchers."

While the company does charge for an "Ultimate" version, the "Core" edition of Zorin OS 12 is entirely free... "As Zorin OS 12 is based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, it will be supported with security updates until April 2021. This makes Zorin OS 12 the ideal choice for large deployments in businesses, governments, schools and organisations", says The Zorin OS Team"... Zorin OS features some really great features, such as Google Drive integration with the file browser.
Although unlike Windows 10, its default browser is Chromium.

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Google Bans Hundreds Of Pixel Phone Resellers From Their Google Accounts
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 08:41 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's doing-no-evil department:
Hundreds of Google users just lost access to their emails, photos, documents, "and anything else linked to their Google identity," writes the Guardian, reporting on "hundreds of people who took advantage of a loophole in US sales tax to make a small profit on Pixel phones" -- and got all of the Google accounts suspended. Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor writes:
"The Google customers had all bought the phones from the company's Project Fi mobile carrier, and had them shipped directly to a reseller in New Hampshire, a US state with no sales tax. In return, the reseller split the profit with the customers," the Guardian adds.

People might ask, in a hurt tone of voice, "why are you doing this to me?" To which the obvious answer is "because we can, and you agreed to these (link to 3000 pages of text) terms and conditions, including our ability to do this"... The only question has been "When?", never "If?"

One webmaster described Google's move as a "digital death penalty".

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Flying Robot Ambulance Finally Takes Its First Flight
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 08:41 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's watch-out-for-eagles department:
What weighs 2,400 pounds, flies 100 miles per hour, and doesn't haven't a pilot? An anonymous reader writes:
This week Popular Science remembers a 2007 article which discovered "an amazing machine of the future, almost like a flying car, that seemed plausible but just out of reach" -- and reports that it's now finally performed "a full, autonomous flight on a preplanned route." Designed to provide unmanned emergency evacuations, it's been described as "a hovercar-like aircraft" flown with a built-in AI-controlled flight system.

Tuesday's route was two minutes long, and "According to Urban Aeronautics, the vehicle's Flight Control System made the decision to land too early." But what's significant is there's no human pilot. "Decisions by the flight controls are checked by the craft's flight management system, like a pilot overseen by a captain...all informed by an array of sensors, including 'two laser altimeters, a radar altimeter, inertial sensors, and an electro-optic payload camera.'"

The test brings the giant unmanned vehicle one step closer to its ultimate goal of becoming "a robot that can fly inside cities, weaving between buildings and hovering above any dangers on the ground below."

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Red Hat CEO Predicts Open Source Infrastructures With Proprietary Business Functionality
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 07:17 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's intensive-interviews department:
An anonymous reader summarizes the highlights of Fortune's new interview with Red Hat CEO James Whitehurst:
A recruiter told Whitehurst the culture at Red Hat was "a little bit like that Blues Brothers movie, when Dan Aykroyd says, 'We're on a mission from God.'" But Whitehurst says geeky passion "makes it a great place to be a part of," and even argues that the success of Microsoft in the 1990s can be attributed to its Microsoft Developer Network, which led developers into Microsoft's platform and infrastructure. "Developers now are heavily using open-source tools and technology and, bluntly, I think that's why Microsoft had to open source .NET and why they're embracing more open source in general. Because open source is where innovation is coming from and is what developers are consuming, it forces vendors to participate."

Looking towards the future, Whitehurst says "A rough line would be almost to say most infrastructure is going to be open source and most business functionality above it is going to be proprietary." And he also warns open source companies, "if you don't have the unique business model that allows you to add value on top of the free functionality, in the end you're going to fail... a lot of open source companies have come and gone because they've been more focused on the functionality versus how they add value around the functionality."

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Why Automation Won't Displace Human Workers
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 05:50 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's jobs-no-one-wanted department:
"There was never a job opening for a drone pilot until there was something to fly," writes the founder of market research firm Beagle Research Group, arguing that automation won't inevitably lead society to a universal basic income "free lunch" because new jobs arise when "new capabilities, technical and otherwise, innovate them into existence."
Heck, computer programmers had no existence until computers. At one point a computer was just someone who was very good at math performing calculations all day...it took a year to check all of the calculations needed to produce the atomic bomb and that work was all done by humans. Imagine how history might be different if even one of them had a pocket calculator. You get the idea. New technology inspires new jobs.
He also argues that historically automation eliminates jobs that were "dull, dirty, and dangerous," and that automation also ends up performing previously-nonexistent jobs -- or work that was forced onto customers in self-service scenarios.

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Snopes.com Editor on Fake News: Social Media Is Not the Problem
Posted by News Fetcher on November 20 '16 at 01:50 AM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's status-update department:
"Honestly, most of the fake news is incredibly easy to debunk because it's such obvious bullshit..." says Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of the fact-checking at Snopes.com. "It's not social media that's the problem. People are looking for somebody to pick on." mirandakatz shared this article from Backchannel:
The problem, Binkowski believes, is that the public has lost faith in the media broadly -- therefore no media outlet is considered credible any longer. The reasons are familiar: as the business of news has grown tougher, many outlets have been stripped of the resources they need for journalists to do their jobs correctly. "When you're on your fifth story of the day and there's no editor because the editor's been fired and there's no fact checker so you have to Google it yourself and you don't have access to any academic journals or anything like that, you will screw stories up," she says.

I found this article confusing. Snopes seemed to be trying to steer the conversation back to erroneous stories from "legitimate publications," which erode the public trust in all mainstream outlets. (Which I guess then over time hypothetically makes people more susceptible to fake news stories on Facebook.) But her earlier remarks suggest it's not really credibility that's lacking there -- it's the absence of someone convenient to pick on. So what is the problem? Is it the news media's lack of credibility? Algorithms that disproportionately reward alarming stories? A human tendency to seek information that confirms our pre-existing biases? What do Slashdot readers think is causing what this article describes as "our epidemic of misinformation"?

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Second Chinese Firm In a Week Found Hiding a Backdoor In Android Firmware
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 09:41 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's phoning-home department:
An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer:
Security researchers have discovered that third-party firmware included with over 2.8 million low-end Android smartphones allows attackers to compromise Over-the-Air (OTA) update operations and execute commands on the target's phone with root privileges.

This is the second issue of its kind that came to light this week after researchers from Kryptowire discovered a similar secret backdoor in the firmware of Chinese firm Shanghai Adups Technology Co. Ltd.. This time around, the problem affected Android firmware created by another Chinese company named Ragentek Group.

It apparently affects more than 55 low-end/burner phones from BLU, Infinix Mobility, DOOGEE, LEAGOO, IKU Mobile, Beeline, and XOLO. According to the article, the binary performing the insecure updates "also includes code to hide its presence from the Android OS, along with two other binaries and their processes... Without SSL protection, this OTA system is an open backdoor for anyone looking to take control of it."

Even worse, three domains were hard-coded into the binaries, two of which were unregistered, according to the researchers. "If an adversary had noticed this, and registered these two domains, they would've instantly had access to perform arbitrary attacks on almost 3,000,000 devices without the need to perform a Man-in-the-Middle attack."

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Feeding Seaweed To Cows Eliminates Methane Emissions
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 07:01 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's cows-eating-kelp department:
Dave Knott writes:
A Canadian farmer has "helped lead to a researcher's discovery of an unlikely weapon in the battle against global warming: a seaweed that nearly eliminates the destructive methane content of cow burps and farts," reports the CBC. "Joe Dorgan began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago as a way to cut costs... Then researcher Rob Kinley of Dalhousie University caught wind of it." He tested Dorgan's seaweed mix, discovering that it reduced the methane in the cows' burps and farts by about 20 per cent. "Kinley knew he was on to something, so he did further testing with 30 to 40 other seaweeds. That led him to a red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis he says reduces methane in cows burps and farts to almost nothing."
"Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it's not a small number," said Kinley, an agricultural research scientist now working at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Queensland, Australia. "We're talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars."

The researcher predicts a seaweed-based cow feed could be on the market within three to five years, according to the article. "He says the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed."

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Commercial-Mining Drones Keep Getting Attacked By Eagles
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 05:41 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's drones-of-prey department:
An anonymous reader summarizes an article from ABC News:
The world's seventh-biggest gold producer has lost more than nine drones because of eagle attacks. "People couldn't believe I was able to get such a good photo of an eagle airborne," complained surveyor Rick Steven at a conference sponsored by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. "But I didn't... Another eagle took that photo... I was getting attacked by two eagles simultaneously." The specially-constructed drones carry a $10,000 camera for high-resolution photos and equipment that produces high-detail contour maps of potential mining areas, and so far the company estimates they've lost more than $100,000 worth of technology to eagle attacks. They've tried camouflage -- including disguising the drones as another eagle -- but unfortunately, according to Stevens, the eagle is the "natural enemy" of the drone.

One drone's video is interrupted by the sudden appearance of an eagle, followed almost immediately by footage from the ground by a sideways drone camera. That video -- included in the article -- ends with a reminder that "Eagle attacks on drones have been documented across the world, to the point where some European police forces are now training them to take down unauthorized aircraft."

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Should Domain-Name Registrations Require A Verifiable Real Name?
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 04:21 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's owning-your-words department:
lpress writes:
The Internet was a major source of news -- fake and real -- during the election campaign. The operators of fake sites, whether motivated by politics or greed, are often anonymous. We avoid voter fraud by requiring verification of ones name, age and address. A verifiable real-names domain registration policy would discourage information fraud.

"I understand the wish to protect the privacy of a person or organization registering a domain name," argues the linked-to blog post, "but there is also a public interest." ICANN already requested comments on this back in 2015, but I'm curious what Slashdot's readers think. Should domain name registrations require a verifiable real name?

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Dutch Science Academy Plans A Women-Only Election
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 04:21 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's XX-chromosomes department:
greg65535 writes: In order to reduce its gender imbalance, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in Amsterdam will hold special election rounds, one in 2017 and one in 2018, for which only women can be nominated.
The plan "does not come at men's expense," argues the academy's president, Jose van Dijck, because all the regular election rounds for membership will also still continue as planned. Currently 13% of the academy's 556 members are women, a slightly higher percentage than the 10% at Germany's national science academy and the 6% in the U.K. The plan was proposed by two male board members and approved by a 73% majority, though ironically, the first female president of the U.S. National Academy of Science says "I don't think we would do that. Other people might feel that women elected this way somehow did not meet the same standards as their male counterparts, or even other women elected through the regular process."

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cURL Author Is Getting Tech Support Emails From Car Owners
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 04:21 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's email-address-in-the-dashboard department:
AmiMoJo writes:
The author of the popular cURL utility has been receiving requests for help from frustrated car owners having difficulty with their infotainment systems... [B]ecause his email address is listed on the "about" screen, as required by the cURL license, some desperate users are reaching out to him in the hopes of finding a solution.
It sounds annoying to receive complaints like "why there delay between audio and video when connect throw Bluetooth and how to fix it." But though he rarely answers them, Stenberg writes that "I actually find these emails interesting, sometimes charming and they help me connect to the reality many people experience out there."

In a post titled "I have toyota corola," Stenberg says "I suspect my email address is just about the only address listed. This occasionally makes desperate users who have tried everything to eventually reach out to me. They can't fix their problem but since my email exists in their car, surely I can!"

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Is Google's AI-Driven Image-Resizing Algorithm Dishonest?
Posted by News Fetcher on November 19 '16 at 04:21 PM
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's infinitely-more-sizes department:
The Stack reports on Google's "new research into upscaling low-resolution images using machine learning to 'fill in' the missing details," arguing this is "a questionable stance...continuing to propagate the idea that images contain some kind of abstract 'DNA', and that there might be some reliable photographic equivalent of polymerase chain reaction which could find deeper truth in low-res images than either the money spent on the equipment or the age of the equipment will allow."

An anonymous reader summarizes their report:

Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution (RAISR) uses low and high resolution versions of photos in a standard image set to establish templated paths for upward scaling... This effectively uses historical logic, instead of pixel interpolation, to infer what the image would look like if it had been taken at a higher resolution.

It's notable that neither their initial paper nor the supplementary examples feature human faces. It could be argued that using AI-driven techniques to reconstruct images raises some questions about whether upscaled, machine-driven digital enhancements are a legal risk, compared to the far greater expense of upgrading low-res CCTV networks with the necessary resolution, bandwidth and storage to obtain good quality video evidence.
The article points out that "faith in the fidelity of these 'enhanced' images routinely convicts defendants."

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