By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
The Boston Public School District held a contest to determine the best solution for busing around 25,000 students to school every day. The winning algorithm improved the efficiency of the routes in 30 minutes. From a report: In 2017, the district was facing serious challenges. On a per-pupil basis, Boston Public Schools had the highest transportation costs in the country, around $2,000 per student per year, representing 10% of the district's budget. The schools dealt with rising costs each year, despite declining ridership. The on-time performance rate of their buses was also well below that of other large districts. With no clear vendor to turn to with this problem, BPS instead sought out experts, hosting a competition where researchers could experiment with anonymized BPS data sets to create efficient routes and optimal start times for each school.
"To put it simply, we wanted a solution that worked," said Will Eger, the BPS senior strategic projects manager. "There are lots of quirks in this transportation situation, and we wanted something that could address the vast majority of those issues while also being highly efficient, something that could run overnight at least." Those quirks represent millions of decision variables that affect any solution, including varying road widths, differing bus infrastructures (for example, the presence of wheelchair lifts or child safety restraint seats), students who require the same bus driver every year, students who have monitors, and students who have been in fights and, therefore, need to be on different buses. It also includes the roughly 5,000 students who have a special need that requires door-to-door pick up and drop off (sometimes to non-BPS schools, as the city provides yellow bus service to students who attend charter and private schools within Boston, and to special education facilities outside the city).
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's gets-what-it-wants department
Carolyn Giardina from The Hollywood Reporter writes about the growing influence Netflix has from hardware and software development to industry display standards. For example, as recently as six months ago, Netflix forbid Hollywood cinematographers from using a highly-popular camera because the standard model employed a 3.2K resolution sensor instead of a 4K sensor required for the streamer's original programming.
Netflix also pressured TV manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic to feature a "Netflix calibrated mode" and "Netflix Recommended TV" logo in their consumer TVs. From the report: To make sure its content is being produced how it wants, the streamer in September launched a Netflix Post Technology Alliance with MTI, Adobe, Sony and others. It shares its roadmap with these companies, and if these firms develop tools -- from cameras to editing systems -- that meet its requirements, they are permitted to use the "Netflix Post Technology Alliance" logo. The logo has been visible in the past year at industry trade shows -- a literal sign of growing influence. Netflix also is involved in industry standardization and development efforts. For instance, it recently joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Academy Software Foundation, a forum for open source software developers.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's future-exploration department
A nuclear power system that could one day provide juice to colonies on Mars is closer to being ready than previously expected. According to project team members, the Kilopower experiment fission reactor could be ready for its first in-space trial by 2022. Space.com reports: A flight test is the next big step for the Kilopower experimental fission reactor, which aced a series of critical ground tests from November 2017 through March 2018. No off-Earth demonstration is on the books yet, but Kilopower should be ready to go by 2022 or so if need be, said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
"I think we could do this in three years and be ready for flight," McClure said late last month during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group. "I think three years is a very doable time frame," he added, stressing that this is his opinion, not necessarily that of NASA, which is developing the Kilopower project along with the DOE. As its name suggests, the Kilopower reactor is designed to generate at least 1 kilowatt of electrical power (1 kWe). Its output is scalable up to about 10 kWe, and it can operate for about 15 years, McClure said. So, four scaled-up Kilopower reactors could meet the energy needs of NASA explorers, with a fifth reactor likely landed to provide a spare.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's chip-implant-hack department
A Tesla driver figured out a way to implant the RFID tag from her Model 3's keycard into her forearm. Now, all she needs to do to unlock and turn on her car is to hold her forearm near the console -- no physical key fob or smartphone required. The Verge reports: Amie DD is a software engineer and self-described "maker of things." In a video, she explained that she had implanted an RFID tag in her arm years ago, which she had used to open her home's front door and to send a smartphone's browser to her personal website. When she preordered her Model 3, she realized that she could probably do something similar with the keycard. She didn't have any luck transferring the software to her existing chip, so she decided to extract the card's chip and implant that into her arm. To do that, she dissolved the card using acetone, and had it encased in a biopolymer. From there, she went to a body-modification studio to have the chip (about the size of a Lego mini-figure) implanted into her forearm. In another video (warning, there's some blood), she shows off the implantation. She also documented her process on Hackaday. She told The Verge that the chip does work, but the range from her arm to the console "isn't the greatest." It's only about an inch, but she's hoping that it'll improve as the swelling of her arm goes down.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department
pgmrdlm shares a report from StudyFinds: So many people, especially young people and teenagers, spend a significant period of time each day staring at a screen of some kind, whether that be a computer, smartphone, tablet, or the regular old TV. Now, a new study is warning parents that all that screen time may be behind a stunning rise in children who need prescription glasses. According to the report released by United Kingdom-based eye care company Scrivens Opticians, the percentage of 13-16 year olds in the U.K. who need glasses has nearly doubled over the past seven years -- from 20% in 2012 to 35% in 2018. Two-thirds of those teens were diagnosed as being myopic, or short-sighted. Researchers theorize that this significant increase in eye problems among young people is likely linked to excessive time spent staring at screens, which can lead to eye strain, shortsightedness, and blurred vision. In fact, the study also found that the average 13-16 year old spends around 26 hours per week staring at a smartphone, playing video games, or watching TV.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's testing-testing-1-2-3 department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The failed missile test that ended in an explosion killing five atomic scientists last week on Russia's White Sea involved a small nuclear power source, according to a top official at the institute where they worked. The men "tragically died while testing a new special device," Alexei Likhachev, the chief executive officer of state nuclear monopoly Rosatom, said at their funeral Monday in Sarov, a high-security city devoted to atomic research less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow where the institute is based. The part of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center that employed them is developing small-scale power sources that use "radioactive materials, including fissile and radioisotope materials" for the Defense Ministry and civilian uses, Vyacheslav Soloviev, scientific director of the institute, said in a video shown by local TV.
The blast occurred Aug. 8 during a test of a missile engine that used "isotope power sources" on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk region, close to the Arctic Circle, Rosatom said over the weekend. The Defense Ministry initially reported two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fueled missile engine. The ministry didn't mention the nuclear element. It caused a brief spike in radiation in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk, according to a statement on the local administration's website that was later removed. A Sarov institute official on the video posted Sunday said radiation levels jumped to double normal levels for less than an hour and no lasting contamination was detected. The Russian military said radiation levels were normal but disclosed few details about the incident. There's speculation that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin introduced last year.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's free-swag department
popcornfan679 shares a report from Motherboard: Ring, Amazon's home security company, has encouraged people to form their own "Digital Neighborhood Watch" groups that report crime in exchange for free or discounted Ring products, according to an internal company slide presentation obtained by Motherboard. The slide presentation -- which is titled "Digital Neighborhood Watch" and was created in 2017, according to Ring -- tells people that if they set up these groups, report all suspicious activity to police, and post endorsements of Ring products on social media, then they can get discount codes for Ring products and unspecified Ring "swag." A Ring spokesperson said the program described in the slide presentation was rolled out in 2017, before Ring was acquired by Amazon. They said it was discontinued that same year.
"This particular idea was not rolled out widely and was discontinued in 2017," Ring said. "We will continue to invent, iterate, and innovate on behalf of our neighbors while aligning with our three pillars of customer privacy, security, and user control." "Some of these ideas become official programs, and many others never make it past the testing phase," Ring continued, adding that the company "is always exploring new ideas and initiatives."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
We've long been obsessed with the super-elderly. How do some people make it to 100 or even 110 years old? Why do some regions -- say, Sardinia, Italy, or Okinawa, Japan -- produce dozens of these "supercentenarians" while other regions produce none? Is it genetics? Diet? Environmental factors? Long walks at dawn? From a report: A new working paper released on bioRxiv, the open access site for prepublication biology papers, appears to have cleared up the mystery once and for all: It's none of the above. Instead, it looks like the majority of the supercentenarians (people who've reached the age of 110) in the United States are engaged in -- intentional or unintentional -- exaggeration. The paper, by Saul Justin Newman of the Biological Data Science Institute at Australian National University, looked at something we often don't give a second thought to: the state of official record-keeping. Across the United States, the state recording of vital information -- that is, reliable, accurate state record-keeping surrounding new births -- was introduced in different states at different times. A century ago, many states didn't have very good record-keeping in place. But that changed gradually over time in different places.
Newman looks at the introduction of birth certificates in various states and finds that "the state-specific introduction of birth certificates is associated with a 69-82% fall in the number of supercentenarian records." In other words, as soon as a state starts keeping good records of when people are born, there's a 69 to 82 percent fall in the number of people who live to the age of 110. That suggests that of every 10 supposed supercentenarians, seven or eight of them are actually younger than that, but we just don't know it because of poor record-keeping.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
ByteDance, the owner of short-video app TikTok, has launched a new search engine in China, entering a sector currently dominated by Baidu. From a report: Beijing-based ByteDance is moving beyond its core businesses in news and video and into work-place messaging and music streaming, competing with Tencent and other Chinese tech firms. The domain for the new search engine, Toutiao Search, sits within the company's flagship product - Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao. ByteDance, which according to sources familiar with the matter was valued at $78 billion in its last financing round in 2018, declined to comment. The company said on social media last month it was looking to hire people to work with its search engine team, and had hired technical experts from Google, Baidu and Bing. It said the search engine would offer content from ByteDance-owned apps, including Jinri Toutiao and the Chinese version of TikTok, as well as the wider web.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's money-problems department
Uber isn't letting tech workers join the ride, at least for now. From a report: The ride-hailing giant canceled scheduled on-site interviews for tech roles last week, and job applicants have been told positions are being put on hold due to a hiring freeze in engineering teams in the U.S. and Canada, according to multiple people who received the communications. In emails sent to job interviewees, Uber recruiters explained "there have been some changes" and the opportunity has been "put on hold for now," according to emails reviewed by Yahoo Finance. The hiring freeze comes after 400 layoffs in its marketing department earlier this month, which raised concerns and fears company-wide. During a recent all-hands meeting, a question about potential layoffs in the engineering department was also raised, but executives didn't provide any timelines. The number of hiring posts for software engineer roles at Uber peaked in March, according to data tracking firm Thinknum. The move highlights the challenges that Uber faces as it scrambles to prove to Wall Street, since its IPO in May, that it's on the right track to achieve profitability. The company, with 100 million monthly active users, reported $5.23 billion in losses for the second quarter last week.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's pass-the-baton department
According to The Wall Street Journal, Verizon has agreed to sell its blogging website Tumblr to the owner of popular online-publishing tool WordPress. Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013, and was later included in Verizon's $4.5 billion purchase of Yahoo's web assets in 2017. Bloomberg reports: Automattic Inc. will buy Tumblr for an undisclosed sum and take on about 200 staffers, the companies said. Tumblr is a free service that hosts millions of blogs where users can upload photos, music and art, but it has been dwarfed by Facebook, Reddit and other services. The Tumblr acquisition is the largest ever in terms of price and head count for Automattic, the company's Chief Executive Matt Mullenweg said in an interview. The San Francisco company has a stable of brands focused on online publishing, including longform site Longreads, comment-filtering service Akismet, and avatar-managing service Gravatar.
Mr. Mullenweg said his company intends to maintain the existing policy that bans adult content. He said he has long been a Tumblr user and sees the site as complementary to WordPress.com. "It's just fun," he said of Tumblr. "We're not going to change any of that." Tumblr has a strong mobile interface and dashboard where users follow other blogs, he said. Executives will look for ways WordPress.com and Tumblr can share services and functionality.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's breaking-news department
The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, significantly weakening the nation's bedrock conservation law credited with rescuing the bald eagle [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], the grizzly bear and the American alligator from extinction. From a report: The changes will make it harder to consider the effects of climate change on wildlife when deciding whether a given species warrants protection. They would most likely shrink critical habitats and, for the first time, would allow economic assessments to be conducted when making determinations. The rules also make it easier to remove a species from the endangered species list and weaken protections for threatened species, a designation that means they are at risk of becoming endangered. Overall, the new rules would very likely clear the way for new mining, oil and gas drilling, and development in areas where protected species live.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the changes would modernize the Endangered Species Act and increase transparency in its application. "The act's effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation," he said in a statement Monday. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the revisions "fit squarely within the president's mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species' protection and recovery goals." The new rules are expected to appear in the Federal Register this week and will go into effect 30 days after that.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Choosing NULL as your license plate might seem like a funny idea. But as an infosec researcher discovered recently, the cool-looking NULL vanity plate comes with its own consequences. Researcher Droogie, that's his handle, who presented at this year's DEF CON in Las Vegas, said he has been on the receiving end of thousands of dollars worth of tickets that aren't his. From a report: Droogie registered a vanity California license plate consisting solely of the word "NULL" -- which in programming is a term for no specific value -- for fun. And, he admitted to laughs, on the off chance it would confuse automatic license plate readers and the DMV's ticketing system. "I was like, 'I'm the shit,'" he joked to the crowd. "'I'm gonna be invisible.' Instead, I got all the tickets." Things didn't go south immediately. As Droogie explained, he's a cautious driver and didn't get any tickets for the first year he owned the vanity plate. Then he went to reregister his tags online, and, when prompted to input his license plate, broke the DMV webpage. It seemed the DMV site didn't recognize the plate "NULL" as an actual input.
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By msmash from Slashdot's tough-luck department
Unroll.me, a firm that helps people manage their email list subscriptions but also sells users' data for profit, has settled with the FTC after allegations of deceiving consumers, the agency said. In a press release, the agency wrote: In a complaint, the FTC alleges that Unrollme , falsely told consumers that it would not "touch" their personal emails, when in fact it was sharing the users' email receipts (e-receipts) with its parent company, Slice Technologies. E-receipts are emails sent to consumers following a completed transaction and can include, among other things, the user's name, billing and shipping addresses, and information about products or services purchased by the consumer. Slice uses anonymous purchase information from Unrollme users' e-receipts in the market research analytics products it sells. Unrollme helps users unsubscribe from unwanted subscription emails and consolidates wanted email subscriptions into one daily email called the Rollup. The service requires users to provide Unrollme with access to their email accounts.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's convenient-features department
If you're an Android user, you can now sign into some of Google's services using your fingerprint, rather than having to type in a password. "The feature is available starting today for some Android phones, and it will be rolling out to all phones running Android 7 or later 'over the next few days,'" reports The Verge. "According to a Google help page, the feature also allows you to log in using whichever method you have set up to unlock your phone, which can include pins and pattern unlock." From the report: Android phones already let you use your fingerprint to authenticate Google Pay purchases and log in to apps. What's new here is being able to use that same fingerprint to log in to one of Google's web services within the Chrome browser. At the moment, you can use the functionality to view and edit the passwords that Google has saved for you at passwords.google.com, but Google says it plans to add the functionality to more Google and Google Cloud services in the future.
If you have a compatible Android handset, then you can try the functionality out now by heading over to passwords.google.com using the Chrome app on your phone. This service lets you manage all of the passwords that Chrome has saved for you. If you tap on any one of these saved passwords, then Google will prompt you to "Verify that it's you," at which point, you can authenticate using your fingerprint or any other method you'd usually use to unlock your phone. You'll need to already have your personal Google Account added to your Android device for this to work.Read Replies (0)