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Preliminary Results Published From New Horizons Flyby of MU69 'Ultima Thule'
Posted by News Fetcher on January 12 '19 at 03:00 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-look department:
RockDoctor writes: The NASA/SWRI/Lowell Observatory (and at least 3 universities) team managing the download of data from New Horizons has released a first look at the results downloaded so far. At the time of writing, about 4 days of about 600 days of downloading had been completed. The next milestone hinted at is for March 2019 when the LPSC (Lunar & Planetary Science Conference) will get another batch of data as the various science teams get more data out of the pipeline.
Results: Firstly the overall shape -- as hinted by the occultation results from nearly a year ago -- is a contact binary. There is a lot of work going on from that, about how it could have formed, its accretion history and thermal history. The rotation period is better known (and this will improve as more data is downloaded) at 15=/-1 hours. The mass remains unknown. The mass ratio of the two components (nicknamed "Ultima" and "Thule") is suspected to be the same as their volume ratio -- 2.6:1; to get an accurate mass, observation of a satellite is needed, but the trajectory change for the spacecraft is unlikely to be large enough to estimate the mass well. Very little data has come down yet about the mineralogy, but the color suggests there is less water ice on MU69 than on Nix, the satellite of Pluto similar in size to MU69. The reason for a bright region to mark the junction between the two lobes is not known. That'll be the sum of the data for the next 10 weeks until the 50th LPSC on March 18th.

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Just 5 Percent of Earth's Landscape Is Untouched, Report Finds
Posted by News Fetcher on January 12 '19 at 12:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's human-modification department:
A comprehensive new high-resolution analysis of human modification of the planet finds that just 5% of the Earth's land surface is currently unaffected by humans, far lower than a previous estimate of 19%. 95% of the Earth's land surface has some indication of human modification, while 84% has multiple human impacts, the study found. New Atlas reports: The researchers from The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Science Partners used publicly available, high-resolution data from ground surveys and remotely sensed imagery on land use in 1 square kilometer grids to provide a spatial assessment of the impact of 13 human-caused stressors across all terrestrial lands, biomes and ecological regions, including: Agriculture; The physical extent of human settlement; Transportation, including railroads and minor roads; Mining, energy production; and Electrical infrastructure, including power lines.

52% of ecological regions and 49% of countries are considered moderately modified. These regions are highly fragmented, retain up to only 50% of low modified lands and fall within critical land use thresholds. Only 30% of terrestrial ecological regions and 18% of the world's countries have a low degree of land modification and retain most of their natural lands, which are distant from human settlements, agriculture and other modified environments. The study found the least modified biomes tend to be in high latitudes and include tundra, boreal forests, or taiga and temperate coniferous forests. On the other hand, the most modified biomes include more tropical landscapes, such as temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, as well as mangroves.

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Man Says CES Lidar's Laser Was So Powerful It Wrecked His Camera
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 08:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's unforeseen-consequences department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A man attending this week's CES show in Las Vegas says that a lidar sensor from startup AEye has permanently damaged the sensor on his $1,998 Sony camera. Earlier this week, roboticist and entrepreneur Jit Ray Chowdhury snapped photos of a car at CES with AEye's lidar units on top. He discovered that every subsequent picture he took was marred by two bright purple spots, with horizontal and vertical lines emanating from them. "I noticed that all my pictures were having that spot," he told Ars by phone on Thursday evening. "I covered up the camera with the lens cap and the spots are there -- it's burned into the sensor." In an email to Ars Technica, AEye CEO Luis Dussan confirmed that AEye's lidars can cause damage to camera sensors -- though he stressed that they pose no danger to human eyes. "Cameras are up to 1000x more sensitive to lasers than eyeballs," Dussan wrote. "Occasionally, this can cause thermal damage to a camera's focal plane array." Chowdhury says that AEye has offered to buy him a new camera. The potential issue is that self-driving cars also rely on conventional cameras. "So if those lidars are not camera-safe, it won't just create a headache for people snapping pictures with handheld camera," reports Ars. "Lidar sensors could also damage the cameras on other self-driving cars."

"It's worth noting that companies like Alphabet's Waymo and GM's Cruise have been testing dozens of vehicles with lidar on public streets for more than a year," adds Ars. "People have taken many pictures of these cars, and as far as we know none of them have suffered camera damage. So most lidars being tested in public today do not seem to pose a significant risk to cameras."

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Improbable, Epic Games Establish $25 Million Fund To Help Devs Move To 'More Open Engines' After Unity Debacle
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 07:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sour-relationships department:
Lucas Matney writes via TechCrunch: Improbable is taking a daring step after announcing earlier today that Unity had revoked its license to operate on the popular game development engine. The U.K.-based cloud gaming startup has inked a late-night press release with Unity rival Epic Games, which operates the Unreal Engine and is the creator of Fortnite, establishing a $25 million fund designed to help game developers move to "more open engines." This is pretty bold on Improbable's part and seems to suggest that Unity didn't give them a call after Improbable published a blog post that signed off with, "You [Unity] are an incredibly important company and one bad day doesn't take away from all you've given us. Let's fix this for our community, you know our number."

Unity, for its part, claims that they gave Improbable ample notice that they were in violation of their Terms of Service and that the two had been deep in a "partnership" agreement that obviously fell short. The termination of Improbable's Unity license essentially cut them off from a huge portion of indie developers who build their stuff on Unity. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney was quick to jump on the news earlier today, rebuking Unity's actions. "Epic Games' partnership with Improbable, and the integration of Improbable's cloud-based development platform SpatialOS, is based on shared values, and a shared belief in how companies should work together to support mutual customers in a straightforward, no-surprises way," the blog post reads.

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'We're Working On Rollable Phones,' Says LG CTO
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 07:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ready-or-not-here-they-come department:
In a wide-ranging interview with Mark Spoonauer from Tom's Guide, CTO and president of LG Electronics, IP Park, said his company is working on both rollable and foldable smartphones, regardless of whether there's demand for them or not. Here's an excerpt from the report: Are you looking into rollable and foldable phones as well? We are exploring many different form factors for phones, including foldable and rollable. Because display technology has grown so much that it can make it into very flexible form factors. And with 5G, if the market requires much bigger screens, we'll need to fold it or roll it. So we'll explore. A lot of people are saying the whole smartphone market has stagnated and there are even some who argue that LG should exit the business altogether. What's your reaction to that? The smartphone business is very tough because of the competition. Also because of the penetration. Everyone has a phone now, right? Everybody has a big screen, and everybody has many features that others have. I think this year could be the year of the upgrade in the smartphone industry because of 5G. 5G is going to be available this year, and people will come out with 5G phones. And 5G is different from LTE, not only because of bandwidth, but also latency. You may want to have even bigger screens on 5G phones because of the more content you can get. That could trigger different killer applications that you run on phones.

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Amazon Dash Buttons Ruled Illegal In Germany
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 05:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's tokens-of-capitalism department:
Amazon Dash buttons have been ruled illegal in Germany for making it too easy to buy Amazon products. Germany consumer advocacy group, Verbraucherzentrale NRW, "complained that Amazon's terms enable the company to switch out an ordered product with something else, and the buttons break laws protecting shoppers from buying things they are not fully informed about," reports Gizmodo. From the report: At first the wifi-connected buttons enabled users to quickly buy basic home goods and groceries -- like detergent, paper towels, macaroni and cheese, and bottled water. But Amazon has since added dozens more, from Slim Jims to Red Bull to Calvin Kline underwear. "We are always open to innovation. But if innovation means that the consumer is put at a disadvantage and price comparisons are made difficult then we fight that," Wolfgang Schuldzinski, leader of Verbraucherzentrale NRW, said to in a public statement.

The Munich court has sided with the organization, and ruled that the Dash buttons break consumer protection rules. The Verbraucherzentrale NRW statement suggests Amazon can't appeal the decision. But an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company believes the button and its app don't violate German law, and Amazon is going to appeal. "The decision is not only against innovation, it also prevents customers from making an informed choice for themselves about whether a service like Dash Button is a convenient way for them to shop," the spokesperson said.

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University of California Tells Students Not To Use WeChat, WhatsApp In China
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 05:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's heed-my-warning department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Students and faculty at the University of California (UC) have been warned not to use messaging apps and social media while visiting China, for fear their communications could be used against them by the country's law enforcement agencies. The guidance from one of the biggest school networks in the U.S. is the latest concern to be raised over Western travel to China following the December 1 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities.

The UC guidance also appeared to reference the case of Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen arrested in Russia last month on suspicion of espionage. "While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat and like messaging apps are legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a U.S. citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges," read an email seen by CNN. "Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure. We recommend not using these messaging apps in China at this time."

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Iranian Hackers Suspected in Worldwide DNS Hijacking Campaign
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 04:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's behind-the-scene department:
US cybersecurity firm FireEye has uncovered an extremely sophisticated hacking campaign during which a suspected Iranian group redirected traffic from companies all over their globe through their own malicious servers, recording company credentials for future attacks. From a news report: Affected organizations include telecoms, ISPs, internet infrastructure providers, government, and sensitive commercial entities across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and North America. FireEye analysts believe an Iranian-based group is behind the attacks, although there is no definitive proof for exact attribution just yet. Researchers said the entities targeted by the group have no financial value, but they would be of interest to the Iranian government.

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Google Discontinues Chromecast Audio
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 04:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's end-of-the-line department:
Google has discontinued the Chromecast Audio dongle that allowed you to stream music via Wi-Fi to any dumb speaker with a 3.5mm headphone jack. If you're saddened by the news and would like to pick one up before they're completely gone, Google is now selling its remaining inventory for $15 instead of $35. TechCrunch reports: "Our product portfolio continues to evolve, and now we have a variety of products for users to enjoy audio," Google told us in a statement. "We have therefore stopped manufacturing our Chromecast Audio products. We will continue to offer assistance for Chromecast Audio devices, so users can continue to enjoy their music, podcasts and more."

Google is clearly more interested in getting people to buy its Google Home products and Assistant- or Cast-enabled speakers from its partners. It's also worth noting that all Google Home devices can connect to Bluetooth enabled speakers, though plenty of people surely have a nice speaker setup at home that doesn't have built-in Bluetooth support. "Bluetooth adapters suck," Google told us at the time, though at this point, it seems a Bluetooth adapter may just be the way to go.

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Federal Shutdown May Send Millennial Workers To Exits
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 03:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's show-me-the-door department:
dcblogs writes: The federal government measures the "engagement" of its federal workforce once a year with a massive survey of 1.5 million employees. And what it has found is that most federal workers are very dedicated to their work. Its most recent survey -- the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey -- asked employees if they are "willing to put in extra effort to get their job done," 96% of the survey takers responded affirmatively. Moreover, 91% agreed with the statement that they "look for ways to do their jobs better," and 90% "believe their work is important." But this job dedication is being tested by the U.S. government shutdown, and most at risk of leaving are Millennial-age workers. Less than 6% of federal employees are under the age of 30 and represent half of all people who leave an agency within the first two years. The best employees have options, and "a major concern is that the brightest, hardest-working, and most capable, dedicated government employees may opt out of government service and take jobs in the private sector," Talya Bauer, professor of management at Portland State University in Oregon and president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, said. The shutdown could hurt the reputation of the government as a good place to work, she said.

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Netflix Sued By 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Publishers Over Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 03:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's not-so-original-programming department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Polygon: Netflix's first interactive movie, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch makes no bones about its Choose Your Own Adventure inspiration, and that's reportedly caught the eye of the series' original publisher. Chooseco, a publishing company specializing in children's books, is suing Netflix for infringing on the company's "Choose Your Own Adventure" trademark. According to the official complaint, Netflix has been in negotiations with Chooseco over a license for the series since 2016, but Chooseco says Netflix never actually gained permission to use it. After the release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch late last month, Chooseco has filed a complaint against Netflix for $25 million in damages, as the company says that Netflix's new movie benefits from association with the Choose Your Own Adventure series, without the company ever receiving the trademark. Chooseco says it sent a cease-and-desist request to Netflix at least once over the Choose Your Own Adventure trademark in the past. Netflix has declined to comment on the complaint.

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Apple Might Debut 3 New iPhones in 2019
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
Apple is planning to release three new iPhone models this year, including a device to succeed the newly-created XR model, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. From a report: Apple will unveil direct successors to last year's iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, The Wall Street Journal is reporting. The iPhone XR, which is believed to have been the least popular of the three, will be updated with a model that comes with the same LCD display and similar design, according to the report. Apple is also considering adding a triple-lens camera system to one of the 2019 models in a bid to compete with Samsung and others that are readying similar camera systems, the Journal's sources said.

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Polish Police Arrest Huawei Executive On Suspicion Of Spying For China
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's growing-tension department:
A Huawei executive has been arrested in Poland on charges of spying for China, Poland's counterintelligence service said Friday. NPR reports: A government spokesman identified the suspect as Weijing W.; media reports in Poland and China say he also is known as Stanislaw Wang, Huawei's sales director in Poland. In a coordinated arrest Tuesday, authorities also detained and charged a Polish citizen named Piotr D. who works for the telecom company Orange Polska. He is a former Internal Security Agency official, according to Poland's TVP Info, which first reported the story. Police searched both of the suspects' homes Tuesday. In addition, TVP Info says, Internal Security Agency officers searched Huawei's headquarters in Poland and an Orange office where Piotr D. worked. The government has evidence that the two suspects "cooperated with the Chinese services" as they conducted espionage against Poland, according to Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesman for the special services branch, in a tweet about the case.

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Electric Scooter Rental Service Bird Sent a 'Notice of Claimed Infringement' To a News Site For Reporting On Lawful Re-use of Scooters
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department:
Bird, an electric scooter rental company, sent a "Notice of Claimed Infringement" to news blog Boing Boing for reporting about people doing legal things that Bird does not like. EFF reports: Electric scooters have swamped a number of cities across the US, many of the scooters carelessly discarded in public spaces. Bird, though, has pioneered a new way to pollute the commons by sending a meritless takedown letter to a journalist covering the issue. The company cites the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and implies that even writing about the issue could be illegal. It's not.

Bird sent a "Notice of Claimed Infringement" over this article on Boing Boing, one of the Internet's leading sources of news and commentary. The article reports on the fact that large numbers of Bird scooters are winding up in impound lots, and that it's possible to lawfully purchase these scooters when cities auction them off, and then to lawfully modify those scooters so they work without the Bird app. The letter is necessarily vague about exactly how the post infringed any of Bird's rights, and with good reason: the post does no such thing, as we explain in a letter on behalf of Happy Mutants LLC, which owns and operates Boing Boing.

The post reports on lawful activity, nothing more. In fact, the First Amendment would have protected it even if reported on illegal conduct or advocated for people to break the law. (For instance, a person might lawfully advocate that an electric scooter startup should violate local parking ordinances. Hypothetically.) So, in a sense, it doesn't matter whether Bird is right or wrong when it claims that it's illegal to convert a Bird scooter to a personal scooter. Either way, Boing Boing was free to report on it.

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Americans Want To Regulate AI But Don't Trust Anyone To Do It
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 11:02 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2018, several high-profile controversies involving AI served as a wake-up call for technologists, policymakers, and the public. The technology may have brought us welcome advances in many fields, but it can also fail catastrophically when built shoddily or applied carelessly. It's hardly a surprise, then, that Americans have mixed support for the continued development of AI and overwhelmingly agree that it should be regulated, according to a new study from the Center for the Governance of AI and Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. These are important lessons for policymakers and technologists to consider in the discussion on how best to advance and regulate AI, says Allan Dafoe, director of the center and coauthor of the report. "There isn't currently a consensus in favor of developing advanced AI, or that it's going to be good for humanity," he says. "That kind of perception could lead to the development of AI being perceived as illegitimate or cause political backlashes against the development of AI."

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It's Getting Hard To Know What is Automated and What Isn't
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 11:02 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
It's increasingly becoming a challenge to know when -- and if -- AI is at play in things we come across in our daily lives. From a report: Applicants usually don't know when a startup has used artificial intelligence to triage their resume. When Big Tech deploys AI to tweak a social feed and maximize scrolling time, users often can't tell, either. The same goes when the government relies on AI to dole out benefits -- citizens have little say in the matter. What's happening: As companies and the government take up AI at a delirious pace, it's increasingly difficult to know what they're automating -- or hold them accountable when they make mistakes. If something goes wrong, those harmed have had no chance to vet their own fate. Why it matters: AI tasked with critical choices can be deployed rapidly, with little supervision -- and it can fall dangerously short. The big picture: Researchers and companies are subject to no fixed rules or even specific professional guidelines regarding AI. Hence, companies have tripped up but suffered little more than a short-lived PR fuss.

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Developer Bungie Splits With Publisher Activision, Will Keep World Shooter Series Destiny
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 11:02 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's moving-on department:
Developer Bungie and publisher Activision are splitting up in an industry-shaking divorce that will see the shared world shooter series Destiny enter fully into Bungie's control. From a report: This development comes after years of tension between the two companies -- tension that has existed since before the first Destiny even shipped. Bungie, the studio that created and has led development on the franchise, told employees during a team meeting this afternoon, framing it as fantastic news for a studio that has long grown sick of dealing with its publisher. Employees cheered and popped champagne, according to one person who was there.

[...] One of the most significant tensions between Bungie and Activision had long been the annualized schedule, which mandated the release of a new Destiny game or expansion every fall. Now, separated from Activision, Bungie will no longer be constrained to that schedule. "We'll continue to deliver on the existing Destiny roadmap, and we're looking forward to releasing more seasonal experiences in the coming months," the company said, "as well as surprising our community with some exciting announcements about what lies beyond."

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IMDb Launches Ad-Supported Movie Streaming Service
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 11:02 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's free-with-an-asterisk department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: IMDb is known as the place to go to look up details for any film under the sun, and now it's entering the streaming video arena. The company has launched Freedive, a free streaming platform that's supported by periodic ad breaks. The service's films and TV shows are available to registered IMDb or Amazon users and Amazon Fire TV owners. (The list of compatible devices is the same as the list for Prime Video.) Fire owners can navigate the service by way of a new icon in the "Your Apps & Channels" section or by telling their Amazon smart device, "Alexa, go to Freedive." The site says it will continually add new offerings to the site. The site will also indicate on a film's page if it's available on Freedive.

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Universal Internet Access Unlikely Until at Least 2050, Experts Say
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 09:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Parts of the world will be excluded from the internet for decades to come without major efforts to boost education, online literacy and broadband infrastructure, experts have warned. From a report: While half the world's population now uses the internet, a desperate lack of skills and stagnant investment mean the UN's goal of universal access, defined as 90% of people being online, may not be reached until 2050 or later, they said. The bleak assessment highlights the dramatic digital divide that has opened up between those who take the internet and its benefits for granted and those who are sidelined because they either lack the skills to be online, cannot afford access or live in a region with no connection. "If there is any kind of faltering in the rate of people coming online, which it appears that there is, then we'll have a real challenge in getting 70%, 80% or 90% connected," said Adrian Lovett, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, an organisation set up by the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

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Google Demanded T-Mobile, Sprint To Not Sell Google Fi Customers' Location Data
Posted by News Fetcher on January 11 '19 at 08:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: On Thursday, AT&T announced it was stopping the sale of its customers' real-time location data to all third parties, in response to a Motherboard investigation showing how data from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint trickled down through a complex network of companies until eventually landing the hands of bounty hunters and people unauthorized to handle it. To verify the existence of this trade, Motherboard paid $300 on the black market to successfully locate a phone.

Google, whose Google Fi program offers phone, text, and data services that use T-Mobile and Sprint network infrastructure in the United States, told Motherboard that it asked those companies to not share its customers' location data with third parties. "We have never sold Fi subscribers' location information," a Google spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement late on Thursday. "Google Fi is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) and not a carrier, but as soon as we heard about this practice, we required our network partners to shut it down as soon as possible." Google did not say when it made this a requirement.

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