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  • Valve's Economist Yanis Varoufakis Appointed Greece's Finance Minister

    eldavojohn writes A turnover in the Greek government resulted from recent snap elections placing SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) in power — just shy of an outright majority by two seats. Atheist, and youngest Prime Minister in Greek history since 1865, Alexis Tsipras has been appointed the new prime minister and begun taking immediate drastic steps against the recent austerity laws put in place by prior administrations. One such step has been to appoint Valve's economist Yanis Varoufakis to position of Finance Minister of Greece. For the past three years Varoufakis has been working at Steam to analyze and improve the Steam Market but now has the opportunity to improve one of the most troubled economies in the world.

    321 comments | 2 days ago

  • Ed Felten: California Must Lead On Cybersecurity

    An anonymous reader writes In a Sacramento Bee op-ed, (in)famous computer security researcher Ed Felten responds to the State of the Union cybersecurity proposal. He doesn't mince words: "The odds of clearing Congress: low. The odds of materially improving security: even lower. "What he suggests as an alternative, though, is a surprise. "California," he writes, "could blaze a trail for effective cybersecurity policy." He calls for the state government to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive data, relying on outside auditors and experts. It's an interesting idea. Even if it doesn't go anywhere, at least it's some fresh thinking in this area of backward policy. From Felten's essay: Critical infrastructure increasingly relies on industrial automation systems. And those systems are often vulnerable – they keep a default password, for instance, or are accessible from the public Internet. These are not subtle or sophisticated errors. Fixing them requires basic due diligence, not rocket science. Requiring the state’s critical infrastructure providers to undergo regular security audits would be straightforward and inexpensive – especially relative to the enormous risks. Areas of sensitive data are also low-hanging cyber fruit. In health care, education and finance, California already imposes security and privacy requirements that go beyond federal law. Those legal mandates, though, are mostly enforced through after-the-fact penalties. Much like critical infrastructure, sectors that rely upon sensitive data would benefit from periodic outside auditing. Of any state government's, California's policies also have the chance to help (or harm) the most people: nearly 39 million people, according to a 2014 U.S. Census estimate.

    80 comments | 3 days ago

  • Winklevoss Twins Plan Regulated Bitcoin Exchange

    itwbennett writes They of the square jaws and famous dispute with Mark Zuckerberg over the origins of Facebook, are also believed to be among the largest holders of Bitcoin in the world. Now they want to launch a regulated Bitcoin exchange—named Gemini, of course. To bolster confidence, they said they have formed a relationship with a chartered bank in the state of New York. "This means that your money will never leave the country," the twins wrote in a blog post. "It also means that U.S. dollars on Gemini will be eligible for FDIC insurance and held by a U.S.-regulated bank.

    79 comments | 5 days ago

  • Made-In-Nigeria Smart Cards To Extend Financial Services To the Poor

    jfruh (300774) writes "A new factory producing smart cards opened in Lagos this week, promising to open up access to financial services to many poor Africans and other inhabitants of the Global South. The cards can be used by people without traditional bank accounts to access the worldwide credit card and smart phone infrastructure." From the article: Preliminary estimates indicate that there are currently about 150 million active SIM cards, 110 million biometric ID cards and 15 million credit and debit cards in Nigeria, [Nigerian president Goodluck] Jonathan said. As more financial-inclusion schemes, requiring more bank cards, are rolled out and different Nigerian states implement ID projects, the numbers of smart cards in use are expected to experience double-digit growth, he said.

    40 comments | 5 days ago

  • Cuba's Pending Tech Revolution

    dcblogs writes The White House order last week lifting economic sanctions against Cuba specifically singles out technology, from telecommunication networks to consumer tech. There's much potential and many obstacles. Cuba has an educated population craving technology, but it has little income for new tech. The Cuban government wants to trade with the U.S., but is paranoid about the outside world and has limited Internet access to 5% to 10% of the population, at best. "The government has been very reluctant to have open Internet access," said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. But "there is real hunger for technology," and with the easing of the embargo, the government "will be facing new pressures," he said. The country needs a complete technology upgrade, including to its electric grid, and the money to finance these improvements. "Markets like Cuba, which will require a wholesale construction of new infrastructure, don't come along often, if ever," said Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, a tech industry trade group. "The flood of companies lining up to get in should be quite substantial," he said. Cuba has a population of about 11 million, about the same size as the Dominican Republic, which spends about $1 billion annually on technology and related services, according to IDC. But capital spending today on IT in Cuba may be no more than $200 million annually.

    122 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Bitcoin Volatility Puts Miners Under Pressure

    An anonymous reader writes "The virtual currency Bitcoin lost 21 per cent of its value yesterday, equating to a total loss this year of 44 per cent. Reports have suggested that this rapid fall is squeezing computer supporting systems and is raising alarm about its future viability. Bitcoin's value fell to $179.37, 85 per cent lower than its record peak of $1,165 at the end of 2013. In total, nearly $11.3bn has been lost in Bitcoin's value since its 2013 high. The decline has raised concern for Bitcoin 'miners' who support the transactions made in the digital currency, and whose profits become squeezed as its price falls against traditional currencies." The Coindesk article in the linked story gives a blow-by-blow on yesterday's valuation drop; right now, Bitcoin has jumped back up and stands at just over $216.

    290 comments | about two weeks ago

  • For the First Time In 3 Years, Investments In Renewable Energy Increased

    Lucas123 writes: Driven largely by oil price weakness, 2015 could be the best year to date for investments in renewable energy technology, according to several new reports. According to Bloomberg Energy Finance, new funding for wind, solar, biofuels and other low-carbon energy technologies grew 16% to $310 billion last year. It was the first growth since 2011 (PDF), erasing the impact of lower solar-panel prices and falling subsides in the U.S. and Europe that hurt the industry in previous years. Demand for solar power grew 16% year-over-year in 2014, representing 44 gigawatts of capacity purchased during the year. Worldwide solar demand in 2015 is projected to be 51.4GW, compared with 39GW in 2014. Government policies will continue to improve for renewables — solar, in particular — given that anti-dumping duties imposed on Chinese modules by the U.S. last year are expected to be removed this year, Deutsche Bank said.

    134 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Fraud, Not Hackers, Took Most of Mt. Gox's Missing Bitcoins

    itwbennett writes Nearly all of the roughly $370 million in bitcoin that disappeared in the February 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox probably vanished due to fraudulent transactions, with only 1 percent taken by yet-to-be-identified hackers, according to a report in Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing sources close to a Tokyo police probe. The disclosure follows months of investigations by police and others into the tangled mess surrounding the disappearance of the 650,000 bit coins.

    108 comments | about a month ago

  • Apple Pay For the UK

    An anonymous reader writes about when Apple Pay will be available in the UK. "A major UK bank's concern over data collected by Apple Pay is reportedly stalling negotiations to launch the mobile payments service in the country by 'the first half of 2015.' The Telegraph reports that 'at least one' of the UK's biggest banks is 'uncomfortable with the amount of personal and financial information Apple wants to collect about its customers.' Apple has been adamant about its approach to collecting users' data via Apple Pay. 'We are not in the business of collecting your data,' said Apple exec Eddy Cue when introducing the service in September. 'So when you go to a physical business and use Apple Pay, Apple doesn't know what you bought, where you bought it, or how much you paid for it. The transaction is between you, the merchant, and your bank.'"

    75 comments | about a month ago

  • Serious Economic Crisis Looms In Russia, China May Help

    jones_supa writes: Russia is facing a "full-blown economic crisis," a former finance minister has warned, as the country is forced to take emergency financial measures. The economy has been battered by a wave of sanctions (set by other countries as a result of tensions over Ukraine), geopolitical uncertainty, and falling oil prices. Analysts have warned that the Russian economy will not improve in the long run until the aforementioned conditions have also improved. The Central Bank of Russia said that a plan to loan Trust bank an amount of up to 30bn rubles ($54m) had been approved. Trust bank has run a series of advertisements featuring actor Bruce Willis in Russia, along with the ironic quote: "When I need money, I just take it." Anna Stupnytska, an economist at Fidelity Solutions, said that "the risk of a sovereign default is low, it's the corporate sector where the main vulnerabilities lie, and banking in particular. Due to sanctions, companies cannot refinance their debt as access to international markets has been essentially cut off." Reader hackingbear adds: Two Chinese ministers offered support for Russia as President Vladimir Putin seeks to shore up the plummeting ruble without depleting foreign-exchange reserves. Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said expanding a currency swap between the two nations and making increased use of the yuan for bilateral trade would have the greatest impact in aiding Russia. Western governments and experts have been criticizing China for restricting exchange and suppressing the value of its currency, even though anyone who lived in China during the 1990's knew that the value of the yuan was cut to align with the (vibrant) black market. But as grandma has warned us, we should be careful of what we wish for. China has greatly sped up the relaxation of currency exchange and is promoting the yuan as an alternative to the dollar for global trade and finance. They've signed currency-swap agreements with 28 other central banks to encourage this. Once accomplished, and backed by China's growing military might, Renminbi would be a formidable competitor to U.S. Dollar, which would hamper the U.S's ability to borrow almost freely with banks around the world.

    265 comments | about a month ago

  • JP Morgan Breach Tied To Two-Factor Authentication Slip

    itwbennett writes The attackers who stole information about 83 million JPMorgan Chase customers earlier this year gained a foothold on the company's network because a server reportedly lacked two-factor authentication, despite the company's practice of using two-factor authentication on most of its systems. The story, reported in the New York Times, echoes the warnings of security experts over the years that the breach of a single server or employee computer can put an entire network at risk.

    71 comments | about a month ago

  • The Shale Boom Won't Stop Climate Change; It Could Make It Worse

    Lasrick writes Energy expert H-Holger Rogner walks through the realities of the shale-gas boom, the 'game-changer' that has brought about a drop in energy prices and greatly reduced carbon emissions. But despite the positive impact on carbon emissions, Rogner points out that the cheap gas brought about by fracking shale may already be affecting investments into renewable energy, nuclear energy, and energy efficiency by offering more attractive investment opportunities: 'At today's prices of $4 to $5 per million British thermal units, gas-fired electricity holds a definite competitive advantage over new nuclear construction and unsubsidized renewables.' But natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide. 'A much higher share of natural gas in the energy mix would eventually raise emissions again, especially if gas not only displaces coal but also non-fossil energy sources. Moreover, methane, the chief component of natural gas, is itself a heat-trapping greenhouse gas with 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. If total methane leakage—from drilling through end use—is greater than about 4 percent, that could negate any climate benefits of switching from coal and oil to gas.'

    401 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Bank Security Software EULA Allows Spying On Users

    An anonymous reader writes Trusteer Rapport, a software package whose installation is promoted by several major banks as an anti-fraud tool, has recently been acquired by IBM and has an updated EULA. Among other things, the new EULA includes this gem: "In addition, You authorize personnel of IBM, as Your Sponsoring Enterprise's data processor, to use the Program remotely to collect any files or other information from your computer that IBM security experts suspect may be related to malware or other malicious activity, or that may be associated with general Program malfunction." Welcome to the future...

    135 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Should IT Professionals Be Exempt From Overtime Regulations?

    Paul Fernhout writes: Nick Hanauer is a billionaire who made his fortune as one of the original investors in Amazon. He suggests President Obama should restore U.S. overtime regulations to how they worked in the 1970s to boost the economy. Quoted by PBS NewsHour: "In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried American workers earned time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. Not because capitalists back then were more generous, but because it was the law. It still is the law, except that the value of the threshold for overtime pay — the salary level at which employers are required to pay overtime — has been allowed to erode to less than the poverty line for a family of four today. Only workers earning an annual income of under $23,660 qualify for mandatory overtime.

    Many millions of Americans are currently exempt from the overtime rules — teachers, federal employees, doctors, computer professionals, etc. — and corporate leaders are lobbying hard to expand "computer professional" to mean just about anybody who uses a computer. Which is almost everybody. But were the Labor Department instead to narrow these exemptions, millions more Americans would receive the overtime pay they deserve. ... The twisted irony is, when you work more hours for less pay, you hurt not only yourself, you hurt the real economy by depressing wages, increasing unemployment and reducing demand and innovation. Ironically, when you earn less, and unemployment is high, it even hurts capitalists like me." If overtime pay is generally good for the economy, should most IT professionals really be exempt from overtime regulations?

    545 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Taxi Medallion Prices Plummet Under Pressure From Uber

    HughPickens.com writes Most major American cities have long used a system to limit the number of operating taxicabs, typically a medallion system: Drivers must own or rent a medallion to operate a taxi, and the city issues a fixed number of them. Now Josh Barro reports at the NYT that in major cities throughout the United States, taxi medallion prices are tumbling as taxis face competition from car-service apps like Uber and Lyft. The average price of an individual New York City taxi medallion fell to $872,000 in October, down 17 percent from a peak reached in the spring of 2013, according to an analysis of sales data. "I'm already at peace with the idea that I'm going to go bankrupt," said Larry Ionescu, who owns 98 Chicago taxi medallions. As recently as April, Boston taxi medallions were selling for $700,000. The last sale, in October, was for $561,000. "Right now Uber has a strong presence here in Boston, and that's having a dramatic impact on the taxi industry and the medallion values," says Donna Blythe-Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Boston Taxi Drivers' Association. "We hear that there's a couple of medallion owners that have offered to sell at 425 and nobody's touched them."

    The current structure of the American taxi industry began in New York City when "taxi medallions" were introduced in the 1930s. Taxis were extremely popular in the city, and the government realized they needed to make sure drivers weren't psychopaths luring victims into their cars. So, New York City required cabbies to apply for a taxi medallion license. Given the technology available in the 1930s, It was a reasonable solution to the taxi safety problem, and other cities soon followed suit. But their scarcity has made taxi medallions the best investment in America for years. Where they exist, taxi medallions have outperformed even the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. In Chicago, their value has doubled since 2009. The medallion stakeholders are many and deep pockets run this market. The system in Chicago and elsewhere is dominated by large investors who rely on brokers to sell medallions, specialty banks to finance them and middle men to manage and lease them to drivers who own nothing at all. Together, they're fighting to protect an asset that was worth about $2.4 billion in Chicago last year. "The medallion owners seem to be of the opinion that they are entitled to indefinite appreciation of their asset," says Corey Owens, Uber's head of global public policy.. "The taxi medallion in the U.S. was the best investment you could have made in the last 30 years. Will it go up forever? No. And if they expected that it would, that was their mistake."

    329 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Spaceport America Loses $1.7 Million Due To Virgin Galactic Delays

    An anonymous reader writes "Officials of New Mexico's Spaceport Authority were grilled by lawmakers about the now vacant Spaceport America following the deadly crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. The spaceport was built as a hub for commercial space flights. Its immediate future is uncertain since Virgin Galactic has indefinitely pushed back the launch date of its space tourism flights. From the article: "Christine Anderson, the authority's executive director, learned last week that she might have to do so one legislator at a time. Anderson was called out by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, for handing members of an interim legislative finance committee a presentation filled mostly with photographs. Lundstrom and other lawmakers wanted hard numbers and more details about what plan the authority has to get past the Virgin Galactic mishap and get the taxpayer-financed spaceport off the ground. 'It just made all of us look like idiots, like we don't do our homework,' Anderson said. 'That's not the case whatsoever.'"

    46 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Internet Sales Tax Bill Dead In Congress

    jfruh writes: Last year, a bipartisan coalition helped get the Main Street Fairness Act approved by the U.S. Senate. The bill would have allowed state and local governments to collect sales taxes on Internet sales by companies in different jurisdictions. But House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime opponent of Internet taxes, won't bring the matter to a vote in the House before the end of the year, which should kill it for the immediate future.

    257 comments | about 3 months ago

  • Mayday PAC Goes 2 For 8

    An anonymous reader writes: Lawrence Lessig's Mayday.us project had a bold goal: create a super PAC to end all super PACs. It generated significant support and raised over $10 million, which it spent endorsing a group of candidates for the recent mid-term elections and the primaries beforehand. The results weren't kind. Only two of the eight candidates backed by Mayday won their elections, and both of those candidates were quite likely to win anyway. Lessig was understandably displeased with the results. In a post on the Mayday site, he said, "What 2014 shows most clearly is the power of partisanship in our elections. Whatever else voters wanted, they wanted first their team to win."

    Kenneth Vogel, author of Big Money, a recent book on the rise of super PACs, was critical of of Mayday's efforts, saying, "While voters do express high levels of disgust about the state of campaign finance and the level of corruption in Washington, they tend to actually cast votes more on bread-and-butter economic issues." Still, Lessig is hopeful for the future: "We moved voters on the basis of that message. Not enough. Not cheaply enough. But they moved."

    224 comments | about 3 months ago

  • Florida-Based Magic Leap Builds Its Team With Bay Area Hires

    Tekla Perry writes Stealthy 'cinematic reality' company Magic Leap may be based in Florida--but it's doing a lot of hiring from the Bay Area, scooping up engineers from Pixar, Google, Apple, and Intel--along with a few Willow Garage alums. And it's got openings for many many more. Are all these folks with long-term Silicon Valley roots really going to move to South Florida? Or is Magic Leap getting ready to open up a Silicon Valley research center to house the brain trust it is gathering? Here's what we know about Magic Leap and its technology, who's joining it, and what other kinds of engineers the company aims to hire. Magic Leap has a lot of money to do all that hiring, having just raised more than half a billion dollars, the bulk of it from Google. If you're working in the Bay Area now, would you look forward to a move to Florida, or rather stay where you are?

    161 comments | about 3 months ago

  • Australian Post Office Opens Mail Forwarding Warehouse In the USA

    Zanadou writes Australians are well used to paying what's called an "Australian Tax": high(er) prices for international products and services simply because they are are being accessed from an Australian IP address and/or being delivered to an Australian mail address. But Australia Post, Australia's national mail service, might have a solution: last week they opened a new warehouse/delivery depot in Oregon, U.S., allowing Australians to use a U.S.-based delivery address for mail items, which can then forwarded onwards to Australia.

    However, this service, called "Shopmate", comes at a cost.

    142 comments | about 3 months ago

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