US Dismantles Forensic Science Commission
hondo77 writes a report via Washington Post:
Thought the Trump Administration's war on science was just about climate change? Think again. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers," reports Washington Post. The National Commission on Forensic Science, "jointly led by Justice and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has prompted several changes," including "new accrediting and ethical codes for forensic labs and practitioners" and the FBI abandoning "its four-decade-long practice of tracing bullets to a specific manufacturer's batch through chemical analyses after its method were scientifically debunked." "The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime, and increasing public safety," Sessions
said in the statement. "We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field."
Firefox To Let Users Control Memory Usage
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer:
Mozilla engineers are working on a new section in the browser's preferences that will let users control the browser's performance. Work on this new section started last Friday when an issue was opened in the Firefox bug tracker. Right now, the Firefox UI team has proposed a basic sketch of the settings section and its controls. Firefox developers are now working to isolate or implement the code needed to control those settings [1, 2, 3]. According to the current version of the planned Performance settings section UI, users will be able to control if they use UI animations (to be added in a future Firefox version), if they use page prefetching (feature to preload links listed on a page), and how many "content" processes Firefox uses (Firefox currently supports two processes [one for the Firefox core and one for content], but this will expand to more starting v54).
Scientists Prove Your Phone's PIN Can Be Stolen Using Its Gyroscope Data
A team of scientists at Newcastle University in the UK
managed to reveal a user's phone PIN code using its gyroscope data. "In one test, the team cracked a passcode with 70 percent accuracy," reports Digital Trends. "By the fifth attempt, the accuracy had gone up to 100 percent." From the report:
It takes a lot of data, to be sure. The Guardian notes users had to type 50 known PINs five times before the researchers' algorithm learned how they held a phone when typing each particular number. But it highlights the danger of malicious apps that gain access to a device's sensors without requesting permission. The risk extends beyond PIN codes. In total, the team identified 25 different smartphone sensors which could expose compromising user information. Worse still, only a small number -- such as the camera and GPS -- ask the user's permission before granting access to that data. It's precise enough to track behavior. Using an "orientation" and "emotion trace" data, the researchers were able to determine what part of a web page a user was clicking on and what they were typing. The paper has been
published in International Journal of Information Security.
Alphabet Wants Its Lawsuit Against Uber To Play Out Publicly
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode:
The company filed an opposition request late last night to Uber's motion for arbitration. If the case went to arbitration, an alternate form for dispute resolution, it would remain in private. Alphabet self-driving subsidiary Waymo "has not consented to arbitrate this dispute with Uber," the new filing said, "and Waymo cannot be coerced into arbitration simply because the trade secrets that Uber stole and that Uber is using in Uber's self-driving cars happen to come from former Waymo employees. That is not the law." Alphabet alleges that its proprietary self-driving technology is being used by the ride-hailing company illegally. The Google parent company claims that Uber's self-driving head at the center of the case, Anthony Levandowski, stole 14,000 files from Alphabet, where he worked on self-driving technology before leaving to launch autonomous truck startup Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August. Alphabet alleged the files Levandowski stole include designs for Alphabet's lidar -- light detection and ranging -- technology. Lidar is a key component to most self-driving systems. Legal arguments aside, there are questions surrounding what might motivate each company's position on openness of proceedings. Alphabet's opposition suggested Uber is seeking to delay proceedings, including a hearing on an injunction Alphabet wants against Uber and to prevent public access to proceedings. "Uber does not like what the public is learning through this litigation about Uber's illegal and unfair competition," the latest filing said.
Chrome Now Uses Scroll Anchoring To Prevent Those Annoying Page Jumps
updated its Chrome browser to
fix the annoying page jumps that occur when pages are loading. While developers want pages to load the actual content of a page before additional ads and images appear, "the problem is that if you've already scrolled down, your page resets when some off-screen ad loads and you're suddenly looking at a completely different part of the page," reports TechCrunch. From the report:
The latest versions of Chrome (56+) do their best to prevent these jumps with the help of a feature called scroll anchoring. Google tested scroll anchoring in the Chrome beta versions for the last year and now it's on by default. Google says the feature currently prevents almost three jumps per page view -- and, over time, that number will likely increase.
Twitter Allegedly Deleting Negative Tweets About United Airlines' Passenger Abuse
As you would have read, United just had another Nazi moment where they had to "re-accommodate" a customer using some (not so gentle) force. The social web seems to have been taken by a storm by this incident. But suddenly people are noticing their tweets are being deleted -- some of them merely status questions. Does twitter make money (read bribes) to delete negative tweets? What do you feel about it? The Next Web adds that "some of the allegedly deleted tweets did not directly mention the incident with the forcibly removed passenger." On the flip side, "some of the initial tweets exposing United Airlines' abusive treatment of passengers are still very much present and actively being reshared on the platform." It's possible that the "allegedly deleted tweets" initially appeared as replies to now-deleted tweets, but TNW says they contacted several users who rejected that premise, "claiming the missing posts were standard tweets."
Canada Hid the Konami Code In Its Commemorative $10 Bill Launch
The Bank of Canada has
hid a "Konami Code" Easter egg on its website celebrating their new $10 bank note. The Konami Code is a cheat code that appears in many Konami video games, allowing players to press a sequence of buttons on their game controller to enable the cheat. "The Bank of Canada's web team thought the Konami code [
Easter egg] was a fun way to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation," Bank of Canada spokeswoman Josianne Menard
told CTV news. Engadget reports:
On top of being laden with anti-counterfeiting tech that makes it extremely difficult to copy (holograms, raised ink, color-changing images and polymer materials), the new ten is a who's who and what's what of Canadian history. It features Canada's founding Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, Agnes Macphail, first woman parliamentarian, and Indigenous peoples pioneer James Gladstone, known in his Blackfoot language as Akay-na-muka. It also shows Canada's prairies, the coastal mountains of British Columbia, the Canadian Shield, Atlantic coast, northern lights, Metis Assomption Sash, maple leaf and much more (no poutine, though). All of that is squeezed on the 152.4 x 69.85 mm note -- that's exactly 6 x 2.75 inches, because Canada uses the metric system but probably still buys its printing presses from the U.S. The Konami code is in keeping with Canada's tradition of doing cute, pop-culture things with its history.
Google Ruins the Assistant's Shopping List, Turns It Into a Big Google Express Ad
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica:
The Google Assistant, Google's voice assistant that powers the Google app on Android phones, tablets, and Google Home, has just gotten a major downgrade. In a move reminiscent of all the forced and user-hostile Google+ integrations, Google has gutted the Google Assistant's shopping list functionality in order to turn it into a big advertisement for Google's shopping site, Google Express. The shopping list has been a major feature of the Google Assistant. You can say "Add milk to my shopping list," and the Google Assistant would dutifully store this information somewhere. The shopping list used to live in Google Keep. Keep is Google's primary note-taking app, making it a natural home for the shopping list with lots of useful tools and management options. Now the shopping list lives in Google Express. Express is an online shopping site, and it has no business becoming a dedicated place to store a shopping list that probably has nothing to do with Google's online marketplace. Since Google Express is an online shopping site (and, again, has no business having a note-taking app grafted onto it), the move from Keep to Google Express means the Assistant's shopping list functionality loses the following features: Being able to reorder items with drag and drop; Reminders; Adding images to the shopping list; Adding voice recordings to the shopping list; Real time collaboration with other users (Express has sharing, but you can't see other people as they type -- you have to refresh.); Android Wear integration; Desktop keyboard shortcuts; Checkbox management: deleting all checked items, unchecking all items, hiding checkboxes. Alternatively, the move from Keep to Google Express means the Assistant shopping list gains the following features: Google Express advertising next to every list item; Google Express advertising at the bottom of the page.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee Lays Out Nightmare Scenario Where AI Runs the Financial World
The architect of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked about some of his concerns for the internet over the coming years, including a nightmarish scenario where artificial intelligence (AI) could become the new 'masters of the universe' by creating and running their own companies. From an article:
Masters of the universe is a reference to Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, regarding the men (and they were men) who started racking up multi-million dollar salaries and a great deal of influence from their finance roles on Wall Street and in London during the computerised trading boom pre-Black Monday. Berners-Lee said, "So when AI starts to make decisions such as who gets a mortgage, that's a big one. Or which companies to acquire and when AI starts creating its own companies, creating holding companies, generating new versions of itself to run these companies. So you have survival of the fittest going on between these AI companies until you reach the point where you wonder if it becomes possible to understand how to ensure they are being fair, and how do you describe to a computer what that means anyway?"
Facebook Has Reached Its Microsoft Bing Moment -- History Shows the Results Won't Be Pretty
As we noted recently, Facebook continues to
duplicate every core feature that rival app Snapchat adds to its service. A new report, which cites multiple Facebook employees, sheds more light into how Facebook operates. The company, the report claims,
created a "Teens Team" to figure out how to grab teenagers back from Snapchat, and has been up front about its tactics within the company: The internal mantra among some groups is "don't be too proud to copy." Matt Rosoff, an editor at CNBC says this whole tactics by Facebook is nothing new in the tech industry. From the article:
Flash back to the early 2000s, when Microsoft was the undisputed king of the tech industry, with two unassailable monopolies -- operating systems and productivity apps for personal computers. It faced a lot of competitors, but the one that scared it the most was Google, which was in a completely different business. Google didn't start by creating alternatives to Windows and Office, although it did so later. Instead, it created a suite of online services -- first search, followed by email and maps -- that threatened the entire purpose of a personal computer. Why rely on Microsoft software running locally when you could get so much done with web apps? Microsoft's response? Trying to build the exact same service that made Google famous -- a search engine, first known as MSN Search, later rebranded to Bing. Eleven years later, Bing is a small minority player in search, with less than 10 percent market share on the desktop and less than 1 percent in mobile.
The Kodi Development Team Wants To Be Legitimate and Bring DRM To the Platform.
The XBMC/ Kodi development team has taken a lot of heat over the years, mostly due to third-party developers introducing piracy plugins to the platform. In many cases, cheap Android computers are often sold with these plugins pre-installed with the Kodi or XBMC name attached to them -- something that caused Amazon to ban sales of such devices. The Kodi team is not happy about this, and has taken the fight to the sellers. The Kodi team is now trying to work with rights holders to introduce DRM and legitimate plugins to the platform. Is this the first step towards creating a true one-stop do it yourself Linux entertainment system?
As Streaming Booms, Songs Are Getting Faster and Shorter
An anonymous reader shares a report:
A new study finds that pop songs are getting faster as listeners' attention spans diminish. Instrumental openings to songs have shrunk dramatically over the past three decades and, to a lesser extent, the average tempo of hit singles has been speeding up, the research found. Hubert Leveille Gauvin, a doctoral student in music theory at the Ohio State University, analyzed the year-end top 10 on the US Billboard chart between 1986 and 2015. In 1986, it took roughly 23 seconds before the voice began on the average hit song. In 2015, vocals came in after about five seconds, a drop of 78%, he found. In a study published in Musicae Scientiae, the Journal of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, Leveille Gauvin linked the trend to the rapid rise of Spotify and other streaming sites that give listeners instant access to millions of songs. "It makes sense that if the environment is so competitive, artists would want to try to grab your attention as quickly as possible," he told AFP.
TV's Golden Age Is Anything But, Say Writers Preparing To Strike
The world's largest media companies returned to the negotiating table Monday with Hollywood screenwriters, seeking to avert a strike that could cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars and take popular TV shows off the air indefinitely. From a report on Bloomberg:
Hollywood is bracing for the worst-case scenario after the Writers Guild of America warned advertisers and investors of the financial fallout and said members will most likely walk out May 2 if the new round of talks fail. Major TV programmers, such as NBC and CBS' flagship network, are scanning their slates of upcoming shows to determine which ones can air without guild writers. Negotiators on both sides are counting on cooler heads to prevail as they seek to avoid a repeat of the 100-day work stoppage in 2007-08 that cost the entertainment industry more than $2 billion, according to Milken Institute estimates. Yet the entertainment business, specifically TV, has undergone myriad changes that are creating new sticking points since the last strike almost a decade ago, and the writers say they haven't benefited.
Qualcomm Says Apple Broke Contract, Hindered Performance of Its Chipsets
Qualcomm has filed a 139-page rebuttal of a
lawsuit lodged by Apple in January in which the US chipmaker counterclaimed that the iPhone giant was
"misrepresenting facts and making false statements." From a report on ArsTechnica:
It alleged that Apple had "breached" and "mischaracterized" deals it had in place with Qualcomm and accused the Tim Cook-run firm of interfering with the chipmaker's "long-standing agreements" with iPhone and iPad manufacturers, such as Foxconn. In a statement, Qualcomm said, "Apple effectively chose to limit the performance of the Qualcomm-based iPhones by not taking advantage of the full potential speed of which Qualcomm's modems are capable. Apple's actions were intended to prevent consumers from realizing that iPhones containing Qualcomm chipsets performed far better than iPhones containing chipsets supplied by Intel."
Sorry America, Your Taxes Aren't High
Americans generally feel they're being over-taxed, especially around this time of the year. But is that really true? An article on Bloomberg investigates:
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development analyzed how 35 countries tax wage-earners, making it possible to compare tax burdens across the world's biggest economies. Each year, the OECD measures what it calls the "tax wedge," the gap between what a worker gets paid and what they actually spend or save. Included are income taxes, payroll taxes, and any tax credits or rebates that supplement worker income. Excluded are the countless other ways that governments levy taxes, such as sales and value-added taxes, property taxes, and taxes on investment income and gains. Guess who came out at the top of the list? No. Not the U.S. At the top are Belgium and France, while workers in Chile and New Zealand are taxed the least. America is in the bottom third.
Microsoft Ends Support For Windows Vista; Begins To Roll Out Windows 10 Creators Update
On Tuesday, Microsoft began the roll out of Windows 10 Creators Update, the latest update of the company's desktop operating system. Incidentally, today is also the day Windows Vista, a decade-old OS as well as some parts of Office 2007 hit end of life. Earlier this month we asked Slashdot readers if they would be upgrading their computers to Windows 10 Creators Update. Many people
answered with a resounding no.
A Big Problem With AI: Even Its Creators Can't Explain How It Works
Last year an experimental vehicle, developed by researchers at the chip maker Nvidia was unlike anything demonstrated by Google, Tesla, or General Motors. The car didn't follow a single instruction provided by an engineer or programmer. Instead, it relied entirely on an algorithm that had taught itself to drive by watching a human do it. Getting a car to drive this way was an impressive feat. But it's also a bit unsettling,
since it isn't completely clear how the car makes its decisions, argues an article on MIT Technology Review. From the article:
The mysterious mind of this vehicle points to a looming issue with artificial intelligence. The car's underlying AI technology, known as deep learning, has proved very powerful at solving problems in recent years, and it has been widely deployed for tasks like image captioning, voice recognition, and language translation. There is now hope that the same techniques will be able to diagnose deadly diseases, make million-dollar trading decisions, and do countless other things to transform whole industries. But this won't happen -- or shouldn't happen -- unless we find ways of making techniques like deep learning more understandable to their creators and accountable to their users. Otherwise it will be hard to predict when failures might occur -- and it's inevitable they will. That's one reason Nvidia's car is still experimental.
Fitbit's New Smartwatch Has Been Plagued By Production Mishaps
JP Mangalindan, reporting for Yahoo Finance:
Fitbit's first "proper" smartwatch and first-ever pair of bluetooth headphones are due out this fall after a series of production mishaps delayed the project, Yahoo Finance has learned. The fitness tracker company's smartwatch project has been a troubled one. Production problems have forced Fitbit to push an original spring launch to this fall, according to two sources familiar with the matter. "In one of the more final prototypes, the GPS wasn't working because the antennae wasn't in the right place," one of those sources told Yahoo Finance. "They had to go back to the drawing board to redesign the product so the GPS got a strong signal." Fitbit's design team also ran into problems making its smartwatch fully waterproof, even though that's a key design element for the Apple Watch Series 2. Indeed, it's still unclear as of the publication of this article whether the device will launch with the waterproof feature.
Why Do Airlines Overbook?
From a report on BBC:
A common overbooking problem on a United Airlines flight on Sunday ended with a man being bloodied and dragged from his seat and an already troubled airline earning more bad press. How did it all go so wrong? Overbooking on flights happens all the time. Empty seats cost airlines money, so they offset the number of passengers who miss flights by selling too many tickets. In this case, the problem arose because United decided at the last minute to fly four members of staff to a connection point and needed to bump four passengers to make way for them. When there's an overbooking issue the first step is to offer an inducement to the passengers to take a later flight. [...] Of the 613 million people who flew on major US carriers in 2015, 46,000 were involuntarily denied boarding, according to data from the Department of Transportation -- less than 0.008%.
Google Schools US Government About Gender Pay Gap
Google wants the US government to know that it takes gender pay equity very seriously -- and
is baffled by the contention that a gap exists at the tech giant. From a report:
In responding to allegations lodged by the US Department of Labor that Google systematically pays its female employees less than it pays men, the search giant said in a blog post that employee gender doesn't factor into compensation decisions. Google described the process that it arrives at suggested compensation as "extremely scientific and robust," relying on the employee's role, job level and location, as well as recent performance ratings. What isn't considered in determining pay is whether the employee is male or female -- that information is masked out to those making the compensation decisions, Eileen Naughton, Google vice president for People Operations, explained in the post late Tuesday. "The analysts who calculate the suggested amounts do not have access to employees' gender data," Naughton wrote. "An employee's manager has limited discretion to adjust the suggested amount, providing they cite a legitimate adjustment rationale.
25 Percent of US Driving Could Be Done By Self-Driving Cars By 2030, Study Finds
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch:
Self-driving still seems to be a ways off from active public use on regular roads, but once it arrives, it could ramp very quickly, according to a new study by the Boston Consulting Group. The study found that by 2030, up to a quarter of driving miles in the U.S. could be handled by self-driving electric vehicles operating in shared service fleets in cities, due mostly to considerable cost savings for urban drivers. The big change BCG sees is a result of the rise in interest in autonomous technologies, paired with the increased electrification of vehicles. There's also more pressure on cities to come up with alternate transportation solutions that address increasing congestion. All of that added together could drive reduction in costs by up to 60 percent for drivers who opt into using shared self-driving services vs. owning and operating their own cars.
Boeing Expects To Save Millions In Dreamliner Costs Using 3D-Printed Titanium Parts
According to Reuters, Boeing has hired Norsk Titanium AS to print titanium parts for its 787 Dreamliner,
paving the way to cost savings of $2 million to $3 million for each plane. The 3D-printed metal parts will replace pieces made with more expensive traditional manufacturing, thus making the 787 more profitable. From the report:
Strong, lightweight titanium alloy is seven times more costly than aluminum, and accounts for about $17 million of the cost of a $265 million Dreamliner, industry sources say. Boeing has been trying to reduce titanium costs on the 787, which requires more of the metal than other models because of its carbon-fiber composite fuselage and wings. Titanium also is used extensively on Airbus Group SE's rival A350 jet. Norsk worked with Boeing for more than a year to design four 787 parts and obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification for them, Chip Yates, Norsk Titanium's vice president of marketing, said. Norsk expects the U.S. regulatory agency will approve the material properties and production process for the parts later this year, which would "open up the floodgates" and allow Norsk to print thousands of different parts for each Dreamliner, without each part requiring separate FAA approval, Yates said. Norsk said that initially it will print in Norway, but is building up a 67,000-square-foot (6,220-square-meter) facility in Plattsburgh in upstate New York, where it aims to have nine printers running by year-end.
Large Near-Earth Astroid Will Fly Past Earth On April 19
William Robinson quotes a report from Phys.Org:
A relatively large (650 meters) near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights. For comparison, Chelyabinsk meteor was 20m. Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis , a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The April 19 encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible.