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Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "Last week, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Palcohol, a powdered alcohol product that you can either use to turn water into a presumably not-that-delicious marg or to snort if you don't care too much about your brain cells. It's the first time a powdered alcohol product has been approved for sale in the US, but not the first time someone has devised one, and such products have been available in parts of Europe for a few years now. Now you may be wondering, as I was, how the heck do you go about powdering alcohol? As you might expect, there's quite a bit of chemistry involved, but the process doesn't seem overly difficult; we've known how to do it since the early 1970s, when researchers at the General Foods Corporation (now a subsidiary of Kraft) applied for a patent for an 'alcohol-containing powder.'" It turns out the labels were issued in error, so don't expect it to be available soon. But it does appear to be a real thing that someone is trying to have approved.
New submitter janoc (699997) writes about a backdoor that was fixed (only not). "Eloi Vanderbeken from Synacktiv has identified an intentional backdoor in a module by Sercomm used by major router manufacturers (Cisco, Linksys, Netgear, etc.). The backdoor was ostensibly fixed — by obfuscating it and making it harder to access. The original report (PDF). And yeah, there is an exploit available ..." Rather than actually closing the backdoor, they just altered it so that the service was not enabled until you knocked the portal with a specially crafted Ethernet packet. Quoting Ars Technica: "The nature of the change, which leverages the same code as was used in the old firmware to provide administrative access over the concealed port, suggests that the backdoor is an intentional feature of the firmware ... Because of the format of the packets—raw Ethernet packets, not Internet Protocol packets—they would need to be sent from within the local wireless LAN, or from the Internet service provider’s equipment. But they could be sent out from an ISP as a broadcast, essentially re-opening the backdoor on any customer’s router that had been patched."
Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) writes with some concerning news from the Atlantic. From the article: "In a secret test of mass surveillance technology, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department sent a civilian aircraft over Compton, California, capturing high-resolution video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality. Compton residents weren't told about the spying, which happened in 2012. 'We literally watched all of Compton during the times that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,' Ross McNutt of Persistence Surveillance Systems told the Center for Investigative Reporting, which unearthed and did the first reporting on this important story. The technology he's trying to sell to police departments all over America can stay aloft for up to six hours. Like Google Earth, it enables police to zoom in on certain areas. And like TiVo, it permits them to rewind, so that they can look back and see what happened anywhere they weren't watching in real time."
First time accepted submitter blottsie (3618811) writes "A new project proposes to do away with dead 404 errors by implementing a new HTML attribute that will help access prior versions of hyperlinked content. With any luck, that means that you'll never have to run into a dead link again. ... The new feature would come in the form of introducing the mset attribute to the <a> element, which would allow users of the code to specify multiple dates and copies of content as an external resource." The mset attribute would specify a "reference candidate:" either a temporal reference (to ease finding the version cited on e.g. the wayback machine) or the url of a static copy of the linked document.
snydeq (1272828) writes "As software takes over more of our lives, the ethical ramifications of decisions made by programmers only become greater. Unfortunately, the tech world has always been long on power and short on thinking about the long-reaching effects of this power. More troubling: While ethics courses have become a staple of physical-world engineering degrees, they remain a begrudging anomaly in computer science pedagogy. Now that our code is in refrigerators, thermostats, smoke alarms, and more, the wrong moves, a lack of foresight, or downright dubious decision-making can haunt humanity everywhere it goes. Peter Wayner offers a look at just a few of the ethical quandaries confronting developers every day. 'Consider this less of a guidebook for making your decisions and more of a starting point for the kind of ethical contemplation we should be doing as a daily part of our jobs.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Paul Monies reports at NewsOK that Oklahoma's legislature has passed a bill that allows regulated utilities to apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to charge a higher base rate to customers who generate solar and wind energy and send their excess power back into the grid reversing a 1977 law that forbade utilities to charge extra to solar users. 'Renewable energy fed back into the grid is ultimately doing utility companies a service,' says John Aziz. 'Solar generates in the daytime, when demand for electricity is highest, thereby alleviating pressure during peak demand.'
The state's major electric utilities backed the bill but couldn't provide figures on how much customers already using distributed generation are getting subsidized by other customers. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma have about 1.3 million electric customers in the state. They have about 500 customers using distributed generation. Kathleen O'Shea, OG&E spokeswoman, said few distributed generation customers want to sever their ties to the grid. 'If there's something wrong with their panel or it's really cloudy, they need our electricity, and it's going to be there for them,' O'Shea said. 'We just want to make sure they're paying their fair amount of that maintenance cost.' The prospect of widespread adoption of rooftop solar worries many utilities. A report last year by the industry's research group, the Edison Electric Institute, warns of the risks posed by rooftop solar (PDF). 'When customers have the opportunity to reduce their use of a product or find another provider of such service, utility earnings growth is threatened," the report said. "As this threat to growth becomes more evident, investors will become less attracted to investments in the utility sector.''"
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "It looks like a standardized test question: Is the sum of two numbers on the left or the single number on the right larger? Rhesus macaques that have been trained to associate numerical values with symbols can get the answer right, even if they haven't passed a math class. The finding doesn't just reveal a hidden talent of the animals—it also helps show how the mammalian brain encodes the values of numbers. Previous research has shown that chimpanzees can add single-digit numbers. But scientists haven’t explained exactly how, in the human or the monkey brain, numbers are being represented or this addition is being carried out. Now, a new study (abstract) helps begin to answer those questions."
Nerval's Lobster (2598977) writes "The axe has been with us for thousands of years, with its design changing very little during that time. After all, how much can you really alter a basic blade-and-handle? Well, Finnish inventor Heikki Karna has tried to change it a whole lot, with a new, oddly-shaped axe that he claims is a whole lot safer because it transfers a percentage of downward force into rotational energy, cutting down on deflections. 'The Vipukirves [as the axe is called] still has a sharpened blade at the end, but it has a projection coming off the side that shifts the center of gravity away from the middle. At the point of impact, the edge is driven into the wood and slows down, but the kinetic energy contained in the 1.9 kilogram axe head continues down and to the side (because of the odd center of gravity),' is how Geek.com describes the design. 'The rotational energy actually pushes the wood apart like a lever.' The question is, will everyone pick up on this new way of doing things?"
cartechboy (2660665) writes "Led by Tesla, electric cars are all the rage now. And the idea of a nine-passenger all-electric vehicle sounds good--until you learn that it maxes out at 30 mph, weighs almost four tons, and costs in the six figures. What is this monstrosity? It's the Frankenstein creation of a group of animal-rights advocates, who are proposing it as the replacement for New York City's fabled horse carriages--and who paid $450,000 to have a prototype built. Who's against it? Would you believe Liam Neeson and one of NYC's daily papers? The huge electric car--modeled after an early 1900s open touring car, complete with brass lanterns--is on display this week at the New York Auto Show, and it's certainly attracting its share of attention."
An anonymous reader writes "In a claim brought by The New York Times and the ACLU, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the administration must disclose the legal basis for targeting Americans with drones. From the article: 'Government officials from Obama on down have publicly commented on the program, but they claimed the Office of Legal Counsel's memo outlining the legal rationale about it was a national security secret. The appeals court, however, said on Monday that officials' comments about overseas drone attacks means the government has waived its secrecy argument. "After senior Government officials have assured the public that targeted killings are 'lawful' and that OLC advice 'establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate,'" the appeals court said, "waiver of secrecy and privilege as to the legal analysis in the Memorandum has occurred" (PDF).'"
An anonymous reader writes "In his new book, Social Physics, MIT data scientist Alex 'Sandy' Pentland argues that by analyzing data from smartphones, social media, and credit-card systems, we'll soon be able to have a mathematical understanding of 'the basic mechanisms of social interactions.' Social scientists will be able to understand and predict the interactions of people the way physicists understand and predict the interactions of objects. That will, in turn, enable governments and businesses to create incentive systems to 'tune' people's behavior, making society more productive and creative. In a review of Pentland's book in Technology Review, Nicholas Carr argues that such data-based social engineering 'will tend to perpetuate existing social structures and dynamics' and 'encourage us to optimize the status quo rather than challenge it.' Carr writes, 'Defining social relations as a pattern of stimulus and response makes the math easier, but it ignores the deep, structural sources of social ills. Pentland may be right that our behavior is determined largely by social norms and the influences of our peers, but what he fails to see is that those norms and influences are themselves shaped by history, politics, and economics, not to mention power and prejudice.'"
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "Popular director Joss Whedon has taken the film world by surprise by releasing his latest offering, 'In Your Eyes', available for download on the same day it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The new release comes from Whedon's own "micro studio", Bellwether Pictures, and is featured on Vimeo as a $5 rental, (free trailer). Whedon mused, 'It's exciting for us because we get to explore yet another new form of distribution — and we get $5.' Mr. Whedon has a history of pushing the delivery envelope, as with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, in 2008."
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Really interesting piece by Emma Rosenblum about women freezing their eggs in order to take 'biological clock' pressure off while they pursue careers: 'Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning. The average age of women who freeze their eggs is about 37, down from 39 only two years ago... And fertility doctors report that more women in their early 30s are coming in for the procedure. Not only do younger women have healthier eggs, they also have more time before they have to use them.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with an interesting look at how important plate tectonics may be to life and why the crust on Venus works differently than it does on Earth. "Without plate tectonics, carbon would build up in the atmosphere. Venus, which does not have tectonics, shows the results: an atmosphere that is 96 percent carbon dioxide. It's toxic. Yet Venus is about the same size and composition as our planet, so why doesn't it have plate tectonics? Some researchers made a model to explore how Earth initiated plate movements, and these same researchers made one model of its neighbor for comparison. A 1.5-billion-year-old Earth and a similarly aged Venus were modeled as a hot, mushy material made of tiny particles of rock. The model uses physics at the one-millimeter rock grain scale to explain how the whole planet behaves. According to David Bercovici, a geophysicist at Yale who was an author on the paper, the model also shows how plate tectonics emerged on Earth but not on her twin."
An anonymous reader writes "Here's an interesting look at the battle for mobile video game money between Google and Apple. 'Last August, for the launch of "Plants Vs. Zombies 2," a highly anticipated sequel to a popular zombie-survival strategy game, publisher Electronic Arts Inc. struck a deal with Apple, which promoted the game prominently in its App Store, according to people familiar with the matter. In exchange, one of these people said, EA agreed to give Apple about a two-month window of exclusivity for the title, which wasn't released on Google's Android software until October.'"
darthcamaro (735685) writes "The Heartbleed OpenSSL vulnerability has dominated IT security headlines for two weeks now as the true impact the flaw and its reach is being felt. But what will all of this cost? One figure that has been suggested is $500 million, using the 2001 W.32 Nimda worm as a precedent. Is that number too low — or is it too high?"
schwit1 (797399) writes "An electromagnetic pulse is a burst of electromagnetic energy strong enough to disable, and even destroy, nearby electronic devices. In the first few minutes of an EMP, nearly half a million people would die. That's the worst-case scenario that author William R. Forstchen estimated would be the result of an EMP on the electric grid. 'If you do a smart plan — the Congressional EMP Commission estimated that you could protect the whole country for about $2 billion,' Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, told Watchdog.org. 'That's what we give away in foreign aid to Pakistan every year.' He said the more officials plan, the lower the estimated cost gets. 'The problem is not the technology,' Pry said. 'We know how to protect against it. It's not the money, it doesn't cost that much. The problem is the politics. It always seems to be the politics that gets in the way.'"
jfruh (300774) writes "While Intel is going after low-end Android tablets in a big way chipmaking x86 rival AMD is taking a more judicious approach, looking to focus on the high end. 'This idea of contra revenue is foreign to us,' said AMD's CEO, referring to Intel's strategy of selling chips at a loss to boost market share. But will Intel's vast resources keep AMD in its niche?"
theodp (442580) writes "In a NY Times interview on How to Get a Job at Google with Laszlo Bock, who is in charge of all hiring at Google, the subject of grit-based hiring came up. Bock explained: 'I was on campus speaking to a student who was a computer science and math double major, who was thinking of shifting to an economics major because the computer science courses were too difficult. I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer.' Bock also advised, 'You need to be very adaptable, so that you have a baseline skill set that allows you to be a call center operator today and tomorrow be able to interpret MRI scans.'"
The Guardian carries Edward Snowden's detailed rebuttal to critics who say that his recent live-TV interaction with Vladimir Putin, in which Snowden asked whether the Russian government was engaged in spying on Russian citizens' communications, was a scripted moment intended to curry or maintain favor with Putin. After all, Snowden is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted only temporary harbor, goes this argument, so he is at the mercy of the Russian government, and has just gamely thrown Putin a softball. (Slashdot reader Rambo Tribble said the exchange had a "canned quality," a sentiment widely echoed.) Snowden writes that, far from being a whitewash of actual policies by the Russian government, his question ("Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals' communications?") "was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion"; he decribes Putin's answer as a combination of inconsistent denial and evasion. Snowden writes: "I blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them. Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded 'will make our nation stronger.' I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then. I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials' claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "According to the National Golf Foundation, golf has lost five million players in the last decade with 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few years. Now Bill Pennington writes that golf courses across the country are experimenting with 15 inch golf holes the size of pizzas to stop people from quitting the game. "We've got to stop scaring people away from golf by telling them that there is only one way to play the game and it includes these specific guidelines," says Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America. "We've got to offer more forms of golf for people to try. We have to do something to get them into the fold, and then maybe they'll have this idea it's supposed to be fun." A 15-inch-hole event was held at the Reynolds Plantation resort last week featuring top professional golfers Sergio García and Justin Rose, the defending United States Open champion. "A 15-inch hole could help junior golfers, beginning golfers and older golfers score better, play faster and like golf more," says García, who shot a six-under-par 30 for nine holes in the exhibition. Another alternative is foot golf, in which players kick a soccer ball from the tee to an oversize hole, counting their kicks. Still it is no surprise that not everyone agrees with the burgeoning alternative movement to make golf more user-friendly. "I don't want to rig the game and cheapen it," says Curtis Strange, a two-time United States Open champion and an analyst for ESPN. "I don't like any of that stuff. And it's not going to happen either. It's all talk.""
Just a few days after General Mills changed its policies to declare that people who so much as "liked" their page on Facebook thereby waived their right to sue the company in favor of arbitration, the company has reversed itself: "The announcement resulted in huge backlash on social media, as well as from consumer groups. Legal experts expressed doubts it could ever be enforced. Hamline Law Professor David Schultz appeared on WCCO Sunday Morning. “When I first saw this earlier this week I said this is questionable at best from a legal point of view,” he said. “From a marketing point of view, it’s a dumb idea, too, but legally it didn’t rest on very sound grounds so it’s not a surprise that they are reversing it. The lawyers at General Mills should have known better.”