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coondoggie (973519) writes "It's impossible to imagine the Internal Revenue Service or most other number-crunching agencies or companies working without computers. But when the IRS went to computers — the Automatic Data Processing system --there was an uproar. The agency went so far as to produce a short film on the topic called Right On The Button, to convince the public computers were a good thing."
An anonymous reader writes "The FBI insists that it uses drone technology to conduct surveillance in 'very limited circumstances.' What those particular circumstances are remain a mystery, particularly since the Bureau refuses to identify instances where agents deployed unmanned aerial vehicles, even as far back as 2006. In a letter to Senator Ron Paul last July, the FBI indicated that it had used drones a total of ten times since late 2006—eight criminal cases and two national security cases—and had authorized drone deployments in three additional cases, but did not actually fly them. The sole specific case where the FBI is willing to confirm using a drone was in February 2013, as surveillance support for a child kidnapping case in Alabama. New documents obtained by MuckRock as part of the Drone Census flesh out the timeline of FBI drone deployments in detail that was previously unavailable. While heavily redacted—censors deemed even basic facts that were already public about the Alabama case to be too sensitive for release, apparently—these flight orders, after action reviews and mission reports contain new details of FBI drone flights."
EwanPalmer (2536690) writes "A project involving GoPro cameras and people living on the streets of San Francisco has suggests technology is making people feel less compassionate towards the homeless. Started by Kevin F Adler, the Homeless GoPro project aims to 'build empathy through a first-hand perspective' by strapping one of the cameras onto homeless volunteers to document their lives and daily interactions. One of the volunteers, Adam Reichart, said he believes it is technology which is stopping people from feeling sympathy towards people living on the street as it's easier to have 'less feelings when you're typing something' than looking at them in the eye"
mpicpp (3454017) writes "The 'kill switch,' a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015, according to a pledge backed by most of the mobile world's major players. Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft, along with the five biggest cellular carriers in the United States, are among those that have signed on to a voluntary program announced Tuesday by the industry's largest trade group. All smartphones manufactured for sale in the United States after July 2015 must have the technology, according to the program from CTIA. Advocates say the feature would deter thieves from taking mobile devices by rendering phones useless while allowing people to protect personal information if their phone is lost or stolen. Its proponents include law enforcement officials concerned about the rising problem of smartphone theft."
just_another_sean sends this followup to yesterday's discussion about the quality of open source code compared to proprietary code. Every year, Coverity scans large quantities of code and evaluates it for defects. They've just released their latest report, and the findings were good news for open source. From the article: "The report details the analysis of 750 million lines of open source software code through the Coverity Scan service and commercial usage of the Coverity Development Testing Platform, the largest sample size that the report has studied to date. A few key points: Open source code quality surpasses proprietary code quality in C/C++ projects. Linux continues to be a benchmark for open source quality. C/C++ developers fixed more high-impact defects. Analysis found that developers contributing to open source Java projects are not fixing as many high-impact defects as developers contributing to open source C/C++ projects."
guises writes: "A recent story discussing the cover of Byte Magazine reminded me of just how much we've lost with the death of print media. The Internet isn't what took down Byte, but a lot of other really excellent publications have fallen by the wayside as a result of the shift away from the printed page. We're not quite there yet, though. There seem to still be some holdouts, so I'm asking Slashdot: what magazines (or zines, or newsletters, or newspapers) are still hanging around that are worth subscribing to?"
An anonymous reader writes "The folks at Ars Technica scraped a ton of gameplay data from Steam's player profiles to provide statistics on how many people own each game, and how often it's played. For example: 37% of the ~781 million games owned by Steam users have never been played. Dota 2 has been played by almost 26 million people for a total of 3.8 billion hours. Players of CoD: Modern Warfare 2 spend six times as long in multiplayer as in single-player. This sampling gives much more precise data than we usually have about game sales rates. 'If there's one big takeaway from looking at the entirety of our Steam sales and player data, it's that a few huge ultra-hits are driving the majority of Steam usage. The vast majority of titles form a "long tail" of relative crumbs. Out of about 2,750 titles we've tracked using our sampling method, the top 110 sellers represent about half of the individual games registered to Steam accounts. That's about four percent of the distinct titles, each of which has sold 1.38 million copies or more. This represents about 50 percent of the registered sales on the service. ... about half of the estimated 18.5 billion man-hours that have been spent across all Steam games have gone toward just the six most popular titles.'"
sciencehabit writes: "Fossil fuels power modern society by generating heat, but much of that heat is wasted. Researchers have tried to reclaim some of it with semiconductor devices called thermoelectrics, which convert the heat into power. But they remain too inefficient and expensive to be useful beyond a handful of niche applications. Now, scientists in Illinois report that they have used a cheap, well-known material to create the most heat-hungry thermoelectric so far (abstract). In the process, the researchers say, they learned valuable lessons that could push the materials to the efficiencies needed for widespread applications. If that happens, thermoelectrics could one day power cars and scavenge energy from myriad engines, boilers, and electrical plants."
msmoriarty writes: "According to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S.-based software developers, 56 percent expect to become millionaires in their lifetime. 66 percent also said they expect to get raises in the next year, despite the current state of the economy. Note that some of the other findings of the study (scroll to bulleted list) seem overly positive: 84 percent said they believe they are paid what they're worth, 95 percent report they feel they are 'one of the most valued employees at their organization,' and 80 percent said that 'outsourcing has been a positive factor in the quality of work at their organization.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Here's another story of a tech gadget that arrived before its time. Nokia created a web-ready tablet running EPOC (later to be renamed as Symbian) thirteen years ago. The tablet was set to go into full production, and they actually built a thousand units just before it was canceled. The tablet was scrubbed because market research showed there wasn't demand for the device. The team got devices for themselves and the rest were destroyed. The team was then fired. The lesson: Don't try to be pioneer if you're relying on market research studies."
SpankiMonki sends this news from The Guardian: "Children are arriving at nursery school able to 'swipe a screen' but lack the manipulative skills to play with building blocks, teachers have warned. They fear that children are being given tablets to use 'as a replacement for contact time with the parent' and say such habits are hindering progress at school. Addressing the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Manchester on Tuesday, Colin Kinney said excessive use of technology damages concentration and causes behavioural problems such as irritability and a lack of control."
jfruh (300774) writes "The Wintel cartel appears to be well and truly dead, as Intel chases after ARM with grim determination into the rapidly growing world of Android tablets. 'Our mix of OSes reflects pretty much what you see in the marketplace,' the company's CEO said, a nice way of saying they see more potential growth from white-box Chinese tablet makers than from Microsoft Surface. Intel managed to ship 5 million tablet chips in the first quarter of the year, although plunging PC sales meant that company profit overall was still down."
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "Iapetus, Saturn's third largest moon, was first photographed by the Cassini spacecraft on 31 December 2004. The images created something of a stir. Clearly visible was a narrow, steep ridge of mountains that stretch almost halfway around the moon's equator. The question that has since puzzled astronomers is how this mountain range got there. Now evidence is mounting that this mountain range is not the result of tectonic or volcanic activity, like mountain ranges on other planets. Instead, astronomers are increasingly convinced that this mountain range fell from space. The latest evidence is a study of the shape of the mountains using 3-D images generated from Cassini data. They show that the angle of the mountainsides is close to the angle of repose, that's the greatest angle that a granular material can form before it landslides. That's not proof but it certainly consistent with this exotic formation theory. So how might this have happened?
Astronomers think that early in its life, Iapetus must have been hit by another moon, sending huge volumes of ejecta into orbit. Some of this condensed into a new moon that escaped into space. However, the rest formed an unstable ring that gradually spiraled in towards the moon, eventually depositing the material in a narrow ridge around the equator. Cassini's next encounter with Iapetus will be in 2015 which should give astronomers another chance to study the strangest mountain range in the Solar System."
After being forced to turn over encryption keys (being held in contempt of court for several weeks after initially refusing to comply), secure mail provider Lavabit halted all operations last year. With the assistance of the EFF, an appeal was mounted. Today, the appeals court affirmed the district court decision and rejected the appeal. From Techdirt: "The ruling does a decent job explaining the history of the case, which also details some of the (many, many) procedural mistakes that Lavabit made along the way, which made it a lot less likely it would succeed here. ... The procedural oddities effectively preclude the court even bothering with the much bigger and important question of whether or not a basic pen register demand requires a company to give up its private keys. The hail mary attempt in the case was to argue that because the underlying issues are of 'immense public concern' (and they are) that the court should ignore the procedural mistakes. The court flatly rejects that notion: 'exhuming forfeited arguments when they involve matters of “public concern” would present practical difficulties. For one thing, identifying cases of a “public concern” and “non-public concern” –- divorced from any other consideration –- is a tricky task governed by no objective standards..... For another thing, if an issue is of public concern, that concern is likely more reason to avoid deciding it from a less-than-fully litigated record....'"
SmartAboutThings (1951032) writes "While we are still waiting for the official Windows 8.1 touch-enabled apps to get launched on the Windows Store, Microsoft went and decided that it's time to finally bring the Office online apps to the Chrome Web Store, instead. Thus, Microsoft is making the Web versions of its Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps available to users through the Chrome Web Store and also improving all of them with new features, along with several bug fixes and performance improvements." More on the Microsoft front: an anonymous reader wrote in with a link to Ars Technica's review of the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 release: "It is a major platform update even if it is just a .1 release. Updates include the debut of Cortana, using the same kernel as Windows 8.1 and the Xbox One, a notebook reminder app, inner circle friend management, IE 11, Nokia's camera app by default, lock screen and background customizations, a much improved email client with calendar support, more general Windows 8.1 API inclusion for better portability, and a notification center. Ars rated it more of a Windows Phone 9 release than .1 update."
CanHasDIY (1672858) writes "In his yet-to-be-released book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, John Paul Stevens, who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court for 35 years, believes he has the key to stopping the seeming recent spate of mass killings — amend the Constitution to exclude private citizens from armament ownership. Specifically, he recommends adding 5 words to the 2nd Amendment, so that it would read as follows: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.'
What I find interesting is how Stevens maintains that the Amendment only protects armament ownership for those actively serving in a state or federal military unit, in spite of the fact that the Amendment specifically names 'the People' as a benefactor (just like the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth) and of course, ignoring the traditional definition of the term militia. I'm personally curious about his other 5 suggested changes, but I guess we'll have to wait until the end of April to find out."
Eben Moglen's FreedomBox concept (personal servers for everyone to enable private communication) is getting closer to being an easy-to-install reality: all packages needed for FreedomBox are now in Debian's unstable branch, and should be migrating to testing in a week or two. Quoting Petter Reinholdtsen: "Today, the last of the packages currently used by the project to created the system images were accepted into Debian Unstable. It was the freedombox-setup package, which is used to configure the images during build and on the first boot. Now all one need to get going is the build code from the freedom-maker git repository and packages from Debian. And once the freedombox-setup package enter testing, we can build everything directly from Debian. :) Some key packages used by Freedombox are freedombox-setup, plinth, pagekite, tor, privoxy, owncloud, and dnsmasq. There are plans to integrate more packages into the setup. User documentation is maintained on the Debian wiki." You can create your own image with only three commands, at least if you have a DreamPlug or Raspberry Pi (you could also help port it to other platforms).
theodp (442580) writes "As Google Glass goes on sale [ed: or rather, went on sale] to the general public, GeekWire reports that Bill Gates has already snagged one patent for 'detecting and responding to an intruding camera' and has another in the works. The invention proposes to equip computer and device displays with technology for detecting and responding to any cameras in the vicinity by editing or blurring the content on the screen, or alerting the user to the presence of the camera. Gates and Nathan Myhrvold are among the 16 co-inventors of the so-called Unauthorized Viewer Detection System and Method, which the patent application notes is useful 'while a user is taking public transportation, where intruding cameras are likely to be present.' So, is Bill's patent muse none other than NYC subway rider Sergey Brin?" A more cynical interpretation: closing the analog hole. Vaguely related, mpicpp pointed out that Google filed a patent for cameras embedded in contact lenses.
An anonymous reader writes "The Japanese edition of The Wall Streeet Journal reports that Mt. Gox has filed for liquidation under Japanese bankruptcy law (link to article in Japanese, U.S. version may be paywalled). The article cites a 'related party' as saying that Mt. Gox was unable to work out how to deal with creditors spread out all over the globe, nor design a realistic rebuilding plan. The article adds a comment from the company lawyer: Mark Karpeles will not be attending the bankruptcy court hearing in the United States scheduled for April 17th." The announcement from Mt. Gox's lawyer.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Jonathan Kaiman reports at The Guardian that China's air pollution could be intensifying storms over the Pacific Ocean and altering weather patterns in North America leading to more ... warm air in the mid-Pacific moving towards the north pole. 'Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the U.S.,' says Ellie Highwood, a climate physicist at the University of Reading. 'The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms.' Fossil fuel burning and petrochemical processing in Asia's rapidly developing economies lead to a build-up of aerosols, fine particles suspended in the air. Typically, aerosol formation is thought of as the antithesis to global warming: it cools our Earth's climate. But researchers say, too much of any one thing is never good. 'Aerosols provide seeds for cloud formation. If you provide too many seeds, then you fundamentally change cloud patterns and storm patterns,' says co-author Renyi Zhang. China's leaders are aware of the extent of the problem and will soon revise China's environmental protection law for the first time since 1989 ... 'The provisions on transparency are probably the most positive step forward,' says Alex Wang, expert in Chinese environmental law at UCLA. 'These include the requirement that key polluters disclose real-time pollution data.'"
An anonymous reader tips news of an incident in a Pennsylvania high school in which a student, Christian Stanfield, was being bullied on a regular basis. He used a tablet to make an audio recording of the bullies for the purpose of showing his mother how bad it was. She was shocked, and she called school officials to tell them what was going on. The officials brought in a police lieutenant — but not to deal with the bullies. Instead, the officer interrogated Stanfield and made him delete the recording. The officer then threatened to charge him with felony wiretapping. The charges were later reduced to disorderly conduct, and Stanfield was forced to testify before a magistrate, who found him guilty. Stanfield's mother said, "Christian's willingness to advocate in a non-violent manner should be championed as a turning point. If Mr. Milburn and the South Fayette school district really want to do the right thing, they would recognized that their zero-tolerance policies and overemphasis on academics and athletics have practically eliminated social and emotional functioning from school culture."
Update: 04/17 04:36 GMT by T : The attention this case has gotten may have something to do with the later-announced decision by the Allegheny County District Attorney's office to withdraw the charges against Stanfield.
An anonymous reader writes "Google has a huge research budget and an apparent willingness to take on huge projects. They've gotten themselves into autonomous cars, fiber optic internet, robotics, and Wi-Fi balloons. But that raises a question: if they're willing to commit to projects as difficult and risk as those, what projects have they explored but rejected? Several of the scientists working at Google's 'innovation lab' have spilled the beans: '[Mag-lev] systems have a stabilizing structure that keeps trains in place as they hover and move forward in only one direction. That couldn't quite translate into an open floor plan of magnets that keep a hoverboard steadily aloft and free to move in any direction. One problem, as Piponi explains, is that magnets tend to keep shifting polarities, so your hoverboard would constantly flip over as you floated around moving from a state of repulsion to attraction with the magnets. Any skateboarder could tell you what that means: Your hoverboard would suck. ... If scaling problems are what brought hoverboards down to earth, material-science issues crashed the space elevator. The team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong-- "at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have," by Piponi's calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter. And so elevators "were put in a deep freeze," as Heinrich says, and the team decided to keep tabs on any advances in the carbon nanotube field.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University have concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. What this means is that, although 'Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,' 'majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.' Their study (PDF), to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.'"
An anonymous reader writes "StarCraft II is popular among competitive gamers for having the depth necessary to reward differences in skill. A new study has found that your ability keep up with the game's frantic pace starts to decline at age 24. This is relevant to more than just StarCraft II players: 'While many high-performance athletes start to show age-related declines at a young age, those are often attributed to physical as opposed to brain aging. ... While previous lab tests have shown faster reaction times for simple individual tasks, it was never clear how much relevance those had to complex, real-world tasks such as driving. Thompson noted that Starcraft is complex and quite similar to real-life tasks such as managing 911 calls at an emergency dispatch centre, so the findings may be directly relevant. However, game performance was much easier to analyze than many real-life situations because the game generates detailed logs of every move. In a way, Thompson said, the study is a good demonstration of what kinds of insights can be gleaned from the "cool data sets" generated by our digital lives.'"