By msmash from Slashdot's treading-dangerous-waters department
Google built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that links users' searches to their personal phone numbers, thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people's queries, The Intercept, which first published information about Google's efforts to build a censored search engine in China last month, reported Friday. From the report: The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China's ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. Previously undisclosed details about the plan, obtained by The Intercept on Friday, show that Google compiled a censorship blacklist that included terms such as "human rights," "student protest," and "Nobel Prize" in Mandarin. Leading human rights groups have criticized Dragonfly, saying that it could result in the company "directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations." A central concern expressed by the groups is that, beyond the censorship, user data stored by Google on the Chinese mainland could be accessible to Chinese authorities, who routinely target political activists and journalists. Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user's Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people's searches could be easily tracked -- and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's taking-a-step-back department
Recycled plastic is already used to make some products, such as guttering and sewage pipes. Now attention is turning to roads. From a report: On September 11th in Zwolle, a town in the Netherlands, a 30-metre bicycle track made from 70% recycled plastic and the rest from polypropylene was opened [Warning: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. It will be used to test a product called PlasticRoad, which is being developed by two Dutch firms -- KWS, a road builder, and Wavin, a firm that makes plastic piping -- in partnership with Total, a French oil-and-gas firm. PlasticRoad is prefabricated in a factory as modular sections. The sections are then transported to the site and laid end to end on a suitable foundation, such as sand. Because these sections are hollow, internal channels can be incorporated into them for drainage, along with conduits for services such as gas and electricity. For the Zwolle project, sections that were 2.4 metres long and 3 metres wide were used. These were fitted with sensors to measure things such as temperature, flexing and the flow of water through the drainage channels. A second pilot cycleway is being built in the nearby town of Giethoorn. If all goes well, the inventors hope to develop the idea and make the sections entirely from recycled plastic. Paths, car parks and railway platforms could follow. Eventually, sections for use as actual roads are planned. These could contain sensors for traffic monitoring. In time, the circuits in the plastic roads might extend to assisting autonomous vehicles and recharging electric cars wirelessly. Prefabricated plastic roads should last two-to-three times longer than conventional roads and cost less, the companies claim, mainly because construction times would be reduced by almost two-thirds. Anti-slip surfaces could be incorporated, too, including crushed stones which are traditionally used to dress road surfaces. The sections, when replaced, can also be recycled. But engineers will be watching to see how the track stands up to wear and tear and if the hollow structure causes resonance, which would make such a road unduly noisy.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's topsy-turvy-world department
Hours after the European Union Parliament voted to approve new controversial copyright laws that will transform how people in Europe and beyond use and profit from the internet, the man behind the legislation, Axel Voss, says he is unaware of what exactly he voted for. From a report: Emanuel Karlsten, a reporter for Sweden's Breakit news site, spoke with Voss, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and the EU's copyright rapporteur, after the vote. Karlsten asked about a last-minute amendment that will bar the filming of sports events. The MEP replied in a recorded conversation, "This was kind of mistake I think by the JURI committee. Someone amended this. No one had been aware of this." European Parliament press officer John Schranz at that point broke in to explain that he was aware of the provision in question, calling it "amendment 76." Schranz said that the amendment doesn't bar individuals from filming sporting events. Rather, "the main target" is online betting companies enticing viewers to their sites with video that they have no right to film. He objected to the fact that the "Greens and others" interpret the provision as having a much wider application. But the MEP Voss admitted, "I didn't know that this was in the proposal so far, so of course I have to deal with it now. I do not consider that the commission and council will have this inside the proposal." Voss added that "because of the time pressure" and general focus on other, more notable aspects of the law, it's possible that the measure was insufficiently scrutinized.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Traditional international aid programs typically offer some combination of clean water, livestock, textbooks, and nutritional supplements. A new study funded by Google.org and the US Agency for International Development asks whether the poor would benefit more if they were given cash and free to spend the money as they see fit. Wired: Researchers had two goals: compare an established program to combat childhood malnutrition with giving people the equivalent value ($117 per month) in cash, and compare the cash equivalent to a much larger sum, $532 per month. After a year, results [PDF] released Thursday found that found that neither the established program nor its cash equivalent were able to improve child health, but the large cash transfers significantly improved people's health and financial standing. On the surface, that's not surprising. Of course giving people more than four times as much money gives them access to better nutrition. But the study's co-author Andrew Zeitlin, a professor from Georgetown, says the idea was to provide benchmarks for future programs; it's not unusual for nutritional aid programs to cost $500 or even $800 per month, he says. The traditional malnutrition program, called Gikuriro, was funded by USAID and administered by Catholic Relief Services. It combined help with water, sanitation, and hygiene with training on nutrition, some small livestock and seeds, and guidance on financial habits like saving. The study focused on households with children under the age of 5 and women of reproductive age, with an emphasis on the first 1,000 days of the child's life. The results indicate that Gikuriro helped recipients increase their savings and increased overall health knowledge and vaccination rates in villages, two of the program's goals. However, neither the malnutrition program nor its cash equivalent led to a more diverse diet, or improved child health, as measured by height and weight. The larger cash transfer, on the other hand, led to improvements in food diversity, a drop in child mortality, an increase in household wealth, and improvements in child health measurements, as well as improvements in village vaccination rates.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Chrome OS 70, which Google plans to release in the second half of next month, will include native support for SMB file shares, giving it built-in access to files stored on Windows servers. With this, Chrome OS users can add SMB file shares to the Files app and use them to store and load documents. From a report: Currently, using these network resources requires the use of an extension that adds a similar ability to add file shares to the Files app. Google has been working to make Files a more capable application. As well as integrating support for networked files, the company is also experimenting with giving it more access to Android files, something that will streamline the use of Android applications by exposing their data files to Chrome OS apps. The SMB support helps smooth a pain point when mixing Chromebooks with other systems: it makes it easier to use Chrome OS with corporate file servers, home networked storage devices, and of course, Windows PCs. Instead of needing the extra extension to be installed, these things will just work out of the box.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
David Pogue: Apparently, a lot of people hang their identities on what phones they carry. An iPhone person might feel personally affronted when a Samsung Galaxy gets a great review, and vice versa. Apple and Samsung just introduced their new fall 2018 smartphones, and it's clearer than ever: all smartphones have pretty much the same features. Therefore, it strikes many people as searingly important to remember which brand had those features first. OS Features: Apple invented the touchscreen phone as we know it. The original 2007 iPhone brought us multitouch (pinch to zoom), an on-screen keyboard, auto-rotate, lists that scroll as though with momentum, and the apps-on-a-Home-page design that we all use to this day. Not surprisingly, then, Apple wins this category, having introduced 13 ideas, compared to Android's 10 (and Samsung's 1). The screen is the first thing you notice when you turn on a phone --how big, bright, and gorgeous it is. You can read the full review here. The final verdict: Apple leads the invention category, with 44 innovations, according to our calculations. Google's Android comes in second, with 31. And Samsung brings up the rear with 12 innovations. Now, if you count the number of times each company is listed as a Follower in the spreadsheet, you discover that Apple also seems to have stolen the most ideas. In part, that's because I'm pitting Apple against Google/Samsung (its phones use Google's software). As a result, no feature ever lists Google and Samsung as innovator+follower, or vice versa; they're always a single team.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's some-progress department
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Motherboard: In 2016, Apple's head of security surprised the attendees of one of the biggest security conference in the world by announcing a bug bounty program for Apple's mobile operating system iOS. At the beginning, Apple struggled to woo researchers and convince them to report high-value bugs. For the researchers, the main issue was that the bugs they discovered were too valuable to report to Apple, despite rewards as high as $200,000. Companies like GrayShift and Azimuth made an entire business out of exploiting vulnerabilities in Apple products, while other researchers didn't want to report bugs so they could keep doing research on iOS. But two years later, some researchers are finally reporting vulnerabilities to Apple, and the company has begun to award some researchers with bounties, Motherboard has learned. [...] Adam Donefeld, a researcher at mobile security firm Zimperium said that he has submitted several bugs to Apple and received payments for the company. Donefeld was not part of the first batch of security researchers who were personally invited by Apple to visit its Cupertino campus and asked to join the program. But after submitting a few bugs, Donefeld told me, an Apple employee asked him if he wanted to be part of the bounty program in a phone call. "I know Apple pays people," Donefeld said in an online chat. "I'm certainly not the only payout." Another researcher, who asked to remain anonymous because they are worried about souring their relationship with Apple, said that they have submitted a few bugs and been awarded bounties, but has yet to be paid. [...] Two other researchers told Motherboard they also have concerns with or have had trouble with the program. One said they weren't paid for a bug they submitted (Motherboard could not independently confirm that the researcher did not get a payment), and another said they didn't want to participate in it at all, even after being invited. Further reading: Google Bug Hunter Urges Apple To Change Its iOS Security Culture; Asks Tim Cook To Donate $2.45 Million To Amnesty For His Unpaid iPhone Bug Bounties.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's pushing-the-limits department
The Weather Channel's 3-D, room-encompassing depiction of the Hurricane Florence storm surge took many by surprise on Friday (Second video). It doesn't tell, it shows, more bracingly than you'd think would be possible on a meteorological update, writes Wired. Here's how they did it. CNET: In one video, meteorologist Erika Navarro demonstrates what a progressive storm surge would mean at a human level. (Storm surge is simply the "abnormal rise of water generated by a storm" that is "produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds," according to the National Hurricane Center.) "Storm surge is going to be potentially life-threatening for some areas along the US coastline," Navarro says. Then she demonstrates what's described as a "reasonable, worst-case scenario for areas along North Carolina." Here's where the video gets heart-in-throat scary. As Navarro stands and speaks, the weather maps behind her dissolve away, and she is shown standing in a computer-generated neighborhood. The CGI water rises behind her, setting a red car afloat and flooding homes. [...] The Weather Channel has been using augmented reality since 2015. This year, it partnered with content and technology provider The Future Group and its impressive Immersive Mixed Reality technology, which uses Unreal Engine software. The tech debuted on TWC in June, when meteorologist Jim Cantore used it to walk viewers through what would happen if a tornado hit the channel's own studios. A demo showing the power of lightning followed in July. Reaction to the hurricane explainer has been overwhelmingly positive, said Michael Potts, Weather Channel's vice president of design. "It was created to evoke an automatic visceral reaction, to imagine that this could be real," Potts said. "And people are sharing it with friends and family as a warning tool. The amount of engagement across all of our platforms has been some of the highest we've ever seen." The neighborhood Navarro is standing in looks real, but it's all virtual graphics created in a new green-screen studio built at the channel's Atlanta headquarters. "All the graphics you see, from the cars, the street, the houses and the entire neighborhood are created using the Unreal Engine -- they are not real," Potts says. "The circle she is standing in is the presentation area, it's a 'safe' space that is not affected by the weather. ... The maps and data are all real-time and the atmospheric conditions are driven by the forecast." More on this here.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's timing-is-everything department
OnePlus CEO Carl Pei confirmed to TechRadar that the OnePlus 6T won't have a headphone jack. Instead, it will feature a larger battery that will be "substantial enough for users to realize." From the report: Our first line of questioning was obvious. Why? Why ditch the jack? Why ditch it now? For Pei, it's about timing, and creating the best smartphone experience. "When we started OnePlus, we set out to make the best possible smartphone, but making a great phone doesn't mean putting every component available into the device," he said. "You've got to make decisions that optimize the user experience, and understand that at times things that provide user value can also add friction. "We also had to think about the negative side [of removing the headphone jack] for our users. We found 59% of our community already owned wireless headphones earlier this year - and that was before we launched our Bullets Wireless headphones. "If we were to do that [remove the jack] two years ago, the percentage [of wireless headphones owners] would have been much lower and it would have caused a lot of friction for our users."
Pei went on to explain that there are user benefits to the removal of the port, which should bring some comfort to OnePlus fans already pouring one out for the headphone jack. "By removing the jack we've freed up more space, allowing us to put more new technology into the product," he said. "One of the big things is something our users have asked us for, improved battery life." Pei wouldn't be drawn on what the "new technology" will be, but we already know the OnePlus 6T will feature an in-display fingerprint scanner, which will eat up some of the space left by the exiting jack. Pei did mention they will include an adapter in the box to allow users to use wired headphone.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's there's-only-one-reasonable-explanation department
Alien conspiracy theories are swirling after an observatory in New Mexico has been unexpectedly closed due to an unnamed "security issue," prompting evacuations and a visit from the FBI. "The Sunspot Observatory is now currently closed to both staff and the public, with no word on why or when it will be open again," reports Popular Mechanics. From the report: "We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as precautionary measure," said spokesperson Shari Lifson to the Alomogordo Daily News. "The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time." Lifson said that the facility was first evacuated on September 6 and has remained closed since then. According to Lifson, the observatory has no date for reopening yet.
As part of the investigation into the security issue, the observatory has contacted the FBI, which has been reported on the scene with multiple agents and a Blackhawk helicopter. According to local sheriff Benny House, the agency has been working with local law enforcement but refuses to share any details. The sheriff speculated that the evacuation could be due to some kind of threat made against the facility or its staff, but expressed confusion as to why local police would be left out of the loop. "If that's the case, why didn't they call us and let us deal with it?" he said. "I don't know why the FBI would get involved so quick and not tell us anything."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's that's-a-lot-of-animals department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: An international consortium involving over 50 institutions has announced an ambitious project to assemble high-quality genome sequences of all 66,000 vertebrate species on Earth, including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. With an estimated total cost of $600 million dollars, it's a project of biblical proportions. It's called the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), and it's being organized by a consortium called Genome 10K, or G10K. As its name implies, this group had initially planned to sequence the genomes of at least 10,000 vertebrate species, but now, owing to tremendous advances and cost reductions in gene sequencing technologies, G10K has decided to up the ante, aiming to sequence both a male and female individual from each of the approximately 66,000 vertebrate species on Earth. Cofounders of the project announced the new goal yesterday at a press briefing held during the opening session of the 2018 Genome 10K conference, currently being held at Rockefeller University in New York City. The project will involve over 150 experts from 50 institutions in 12 countries.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's positive-updates department
Australia's Great Barrier Reef appears to be showing signs of recovery after a massive coral bleaching event in 2016 and 2017. Stuff.co.nz reports: The nonprofit Reef & Rainforest Research Centre has reported signs of recovery due to a milder 2017-18 summer, as well as cooperation among science, industry, and government in supporting the reef's recovery, according to the report issued on Wednesday by the Queensland State Government. The RRRC, in cooperation with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, conducted detailed surveys at key tourism dive sites around the city of Cairns in 2016 and 2017 and says certain reefs that were strongly affected in the bleaching event are showing significant signs of improvement.
Coral bleaching occurs in multiple stages, according to RRRC Managing Director Sheriden Morris, ranging from the equivalent of a mild sunburn to coral mortality. "When a reef is reported as 'bleached' in the media, that often leaves out a critical detail on how severe that bleaching is, at what depth the bleaching has occurred and if it's going to cause permanent damage to the coral at that site," Morris said in the statement, adding that the Barrier Reef "has significant capacity to recover from health impacts like bleaching events." Reports that the entire reef is dead due to severe bleaching are "blatantly untrue," Morris said. Still, he warns that the recovery is "contingent on environmental conditions" and that the reef "may suffer further bleaching events as the climate continues to warm."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's not-creepy-at-all department
Rachel Metz reports via MIT Technology Review: Imagine a box, similar to a Wi-Fi router, that sits in your home and tracks all kinds of physiological signals as you move from room to room: breathing, heart rate, sleep, gait, and more. Dina Katabi, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, built this box in her lab. And in the not-so-distant future, she believes, it will be able to replace the array of expensive, bulky, uncomfortable gear we currently need to get clinical data about the body. Speaking at MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, Katabi said the box she's been building for the last several years takes advantage of the fact that every time we move -- even if it's just a teeny, tiny bit, such as when we breathe -- we change the electromagnetic field surrounding us.
Her device transmits a low-power wireless signal throughout a space the size of a one- or two-bedroom apartment (even through walls), and the signal reflects off people's bodies. The device then uses machine learning to analyze those reflected signals and extract physiological data. So far, it has been installed in over 200 homes of both healthy people and those with conditions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, depression, and pulmonary diseases, she said. Katabi cofounded a startup called Emerald Innovations to commercialize the technology and has already made the device available to biotech and pharmaceutical companies for studies.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's only-time-will-tell department
Three years ago, Apple introduced 3D Touch for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a pressure-sensitive feature that uses capacitive sensors integrated into the smartphone's display to sense three degrees of pressure in a user's touch and respond differently based on the amount of pressure exerted. It's a neat idea as it has allowed users to interact with the user interface in a completely new way. Now, with the release of the new iPhone XR, Apple seems to be on the way to phasing it out. The Verge reports: While both the new iPhone XS and XS Max include 3D Touch, Apple has chosen not to include the feature on the iPhone XR. Yes, that phone is cheaper, and Apple had to strip out some features, but 3D Touch has been included on iPhones in that price range since it was introduced not too long ago, so this feels less like necessary cost savings and more like planned omission. There have always been a few core problems with 3D Touch. For one, its use often amounted to the right click of a mouse, which is funny coming from the company that famously refused to put a dedicated right button on its mice or trackpads. And selecting from those right click options was rarely faster or a substantially more useful way of getting something done than just tapping the button and manually navigating to where you needed to go. People also didn't know the feature was there. The iPhone did little to train users on 3D Touch. And even the people who knew it was there had no way to tell which icons supported it without just 3D pressing everything to see what happened.
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