FBI Says Islamic State Used eBay, PayPal To Channel Money To the US
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge:
Islamic State allegedly used PayPal and fake eBay transactions to channel money to an operative in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports. The man who allegedly received the money was American citizen Mohamed Elshinawy, who was arrested last year in Maryland. The FBI claims that Elshinawy, in his early 30s, sold computer printers on eBay as a front in order to receive the payments through PayPal. The details have come to light because of a recently unsealed FBI affidavit, which alleges Elshinawy was part of a worldwide network that used such channels to fund ISIS. Elshinawy received $8,700 from ISIS, including five PayPal payments from senior ISIS official Siful Sujan through his technology company. Those funds were used to buy a laptop, a cellphone, and a VPN to communicate with IS, according to the affidavit. Sujan was killed in a drone strike in 2015. eBay told The Wall Street Journal it "has zero tolerance for criminal activities taking place on our marketplace." Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for PayPal said it "invests significant time and resources in working to prevent terrorist activity on our platform. We proactively report suspicious activities and respond quickly to lawful requests to support law enforcement agencies in their investigations."
Vitamin B3 Supplement Can Prevent Miscarriages and Birth Defects, Says Study
The landmark finding about vitamin B3, made by the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney, Australia, has been described as "the most important discovery for pregnant women since folate." The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. From News.com.au: "The historic discovery, believed to be among Australia's greatest ever medical achievements, is expected to forever change the way pregnant women are cared for around the globe. Every year 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide and one in four pregnant women suffer a miscarriage in Australia. In the vast majority of cases the cause of these problems has remained a mystery. Until now. Professor Sally Dunwoodie from the Victor Chang Institute has identified a major cause of miscarriages as well as heart, spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems in newborn babies. The landmark study found that a deficiency in a vital molecule, known as NAD, prevents a baby's organs from developing correctly in the womb. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is one of the most important molecules in all living cells. NAD synthesis is essential for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Disrupting its production causes a NAD deficiency. The Victor Chang researchers have found this deficiency is particularly harmful during a pregnancy as it cripples an embryo when it is forming. At the heart of the paramount discovery is the dietary supplement vitamin B3, also known as niacin. Scientists at the Victor Chang Institute have discovered how to prevent miscarriages and birth defects by simply boosting levels of the nutrient during pregnancy."
Silicon Valley Billionaire Fails To Prevent Access To Public Beach
Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, has lost his appeal to privatize Martins Beach -- a publicly-owned strip of coastline in California. Having previously fenced off the land in a bid to render the area private, Khosla has been ordered to restore access by a California court. Khosla had previously demanded the government pay him $30 million to reopen the gate to the beachfront. The law of California states that all beaches should be open to the public up to the "mean high tide line." "The decision this week, affirming a lower court ruling, stems from a lawsuit filed by the Surfrider Foundation, a not-for-profit group that says the case could have broader implications for beach access across the U.S.," reports The Guardian.
Netflix Discussing Keeping Streaming Rights To Disney's Marvel, Star Wars Films
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters:
Netflix is in "active discussions" with Disney about keeping Marvel and "Star Wars" films after 2019, when new Disney and Pixar movies will stop appearing on the streaming service, a senior executive said late on Thursday. Disney announced on Tuesday that it was pulling new Disney and Pixar films from Netflix, starting with new releases in 2019. It will start putting the movies on a new Disney-branded online service that year. Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger told analysts the company had not yet decided where it would distribute superhero films from Marvel Studios and movies from "Star Wars" producer Lucasfilm, which the company owns, at that time. Netflix is still in discussions with Disney about retaining rights to stream Marvel and Lucasfilm releases after 2019, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told Reuters.
SoundCloud Saved By $170 Million Emergency Funding As CEO Steps Aside
Last month, SoundCloud announced it was
cutting about 40 percent of its staff in a cost-cutting move to help it compete against larger rivals like Spotify and Apple. One week after that announcement, TechCrunch published a report claiming "the layoffs
only saved the company enough money to have runway 'until Q4' -- which begins in just 80 days." It now appears the company has
closed the necessary funding round to keep itself afloat. TechCrunch reports:
CEO Alex Ljung will step aside though remain chairman as former Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor replaces him. Mike Weissman will become COO as SoundCloud co-founder and CTO Eric Wahlforss stays as chief product officer. New York investment bank Raine Group and Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek have stepped in to lead the new Series F funding round of $169.5 million. SoundCloud declined to share the valuation or quantity of the new funding round. Yesterday, Axios reported the company was raising $169.5 million at a $150 million pre-money valuation. That's a steep decline in value from the $700 million it was valued at in previous funding rounds. The new Series F round supposedly gives Raine and Temasek liquidation preferences that override all previous investors, and the Series E investors are getting their preferences reduced by 40 percent. They're surely happy about that, but it's better than their investment vaporizing. Raine will get two board seats for bailing out SoundCloud, with partner and former music industry attorney Fred Davis, and the vice president who leads music investments, Joe Puthenveetil, taking those seats.
Military Tech Could Be Amazon's Secret To Cheap, Non-Refrigerated Food
According to CNBC, Amazon is
exploring a technology first developed for the U.S. military to produce tasty prepared meals that do not need refrigeration, as it looks for new ways to muscle into the $700 billion U.S. grocery business. From the report:
The world's biggest online retailer has discussed selling ready-to-eat dishes such as beef stew and a vegetable frittata as soon as next year, officials at the startup firm marketing the technology told Reuters. The dishes would be easy to stockpile and ship because they do not require refrigeration and could be offered quite cheaply compared with take-out from a restaurant. Delivering meals would build on the company's AmazonFresh service, which has been delivering groceries to customers' homes for a decade. It could also complement Amazon's planned $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market and Amazon's checkout-free convenience store, which is in the test stage.
The pioneering food-prep tech, known as microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS, was developed by researchers at Washington State University, and is being brought to market by a venture-backed startup called 915 Labs, based in Denver. The method involves placing sealed packages of food in pressurized water and heating them with microwaves for several minutes, according to 915 Labs. Unlike traditional processing methods, where packages are in pressure cookers for up to an hour until both bacteria and nutrients are largely gone, the dishes retain their natural flavor and texture, the company said. They also can sit on a shelf for a year, which would make them suitable for Amazon's storage and delivery business model.
Hollywood's Bad Summer Movies Are Driving a Decline in Movie Ticket Sales
An anonymous reader shares a report:
While some people may point at The Emoji Movie as the root of all that is wrong with Hollywood, The Wall Street Journal reports that the problem goes much deeper than a single misfire featuring Patrick Stewart as a poop emoji. WSJ reports that movie attendance has dropped by 5%, compared with the same period in 2016, and revenues are down, too, dipping just 2.9%, thanks to higher ticket prices making up for the lack of ticket sales. On Aug. 2, AMC shares dropped 27% in one day, the WSJ reports. While films like Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, and Get Out fared well at the box office, they were the anomalies in a year full of box office disappointments. Instead of giving moviegoers more badass female leads and genre-bending horror films, Hollywood keeps throwing gobs of money at an unwanted fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, more Transformers movies, and putting $175 million into King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and then clutching their pearls in shock that no one wanted to see them.
FCC Extends Net Neutrality Comment Period By Two Weeks
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge:
You'll have two extra weeks to file your thoughts with the FCC on its plan to get rid of net neutrality. The proposal's comment period was originally scheduled to end next week, on August 16th, but the commission just pushed the date out to August 30th. The extension was granted in response to 10 groups asking for more time to respond. They had been looking for an additional eight weeks, but the commission said an additional two weeks would be more in line with the type of extensions granted in the past. The commission didn't signal that disruptions to its filing system, caused by an apparent DDOS attack, factored into the decision at all. Granting a two week extension gives people more time to file "reply comments," which are meant to respond to what people filed during the first phase of the comment period, which closed in July. That comment period had been much longer than usual, because the commission released the proposal a month before it was voted on.
Former Bitcoin Developer Shares Early Satoshi Nakamoto Emails
Jordan Pearson, writing for Motherboard:
Satoshi Nakamoto is Bitcoin's anonymous creator and absentee head of state. In the years since she (or he, or they) disappeared into the ether and left the technology in the hands of a few high-profile developers, Nakamoto's words have become nigh-gospel for some in the Bitcoin world. On Friday, a user going by "CipherionX" on the Bitcointalk forum published five emails allegedly between Satoshi Nakamoto and former Bitcoin developer Mike Hearn. In an email to Motherboard, Hearn confirmed that he shared the emails with the user. While Hearn himself, who was one of the earliest Bitcoin developers, has previously quoted most of the juicy bits from his correspondence with Nakamoto, it appears to be the first time much of the material has been shared in full. None of the emails are included on a popular database of Nakamoto's writings collected from old emails and forum posts.
James Damore Explains Why He Was Fired By Google
In an exclusive Wall Street Journal post, the engineer responsible for the anti-diversity "Google manifesto," James Damore,
explains why he was fired by the company:
I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company's code of conduct and "cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company's "ideological echo chamber." My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument? [...]
In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored. Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed -- that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same -- could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google's human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement. Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn't really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.
MIT Team's School-Bus Algorithm Could Save $5M and 1M Bus Miles
An anonymous reader shares a report:
A trio of MIT researchers recently tackled a tricky vehicle-routing problem when they set out to improve the efficiency of the Boston Public Schools bus system. Last year, more than 30,000 students rode 650 buses to 230 schools at a cost of $120 million. In hopes of spending less this year, the school system offered $15,000 in prize money in a contest that challenged competitors to reduce the number of buses. The winners -- Dimitris Bertsimas, co-director of MIT's Operations Research Center and doctoral students Arthur Delarue and Sebastien Martin -- devised an algorithm that drops as many as 75 bus routes. The school system says the plan, which will eliminate some bus-driver jobs, could save up to $5 million, 20,000 pounds of carbon emissions and 1 million bus miles (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The computerized algorithm runs in about 30 minutes and replaces a manual system that in the past has taken transportation staff several weeks to complete. "They have been doing it manually many years," Dr. Bertsimas said. "Our whole running time is in minutes. If things change, we can re-optimize." The task of plotting school-bus routes resembles the classic math exercise known as the Traveling Salesman Problem, where the goal is to find the shortest path through a series of cities, visiting each only once, before returning home.
The Ghostly Radio Station That No One Claims To Run
Zaria Gorvett, writing for BBC:
In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War. It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, "MDZhB", that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it's been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it's joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues. Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as "dinghy" or "farming specialist". And that's it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz. It's so enigmatic, it's as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as "the Buzzer." It joins two similar mystery stations, "the Pip" and the "Squeaky Wheel." As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.
Uber Shareholder Group Wants Benchmark Off Board
Dan Primack, reporting for Axios:
A group of Uber investors has asked that venture capital firm Benchmark step down from the company's board of directors, Axios has learned. It also wants Benchmark to divest enough shares so as to no longer have board appointment rights. The move comes one day after Benchmark sued former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for fraud, in an attempt to have him removed from the board. From the letter:
Mr. Kalanick's resignation, along with other concessions, on a few hours' notice and within weeks of a personal tragedy, under threat of public scandal. Even less so your escalation of this fratricidal course -- notwithstanding Mr. Kalanick's resignation -- through your recent lawsuit, which we fear will cost the company public goodwill, interfere with fundraising and impede the critical search for a new, world-class Chief Executive Officer. Benchmark has used false allegations from lawsuits like Waymo as a matter of fact and this and many actions has crossed the fiduciary line. Benchmark's investment of $27M is worth $8.4 billion today and you are suing the founder, the company and the employees who worked so hard to create such unprecedented value. We ask you to please consider the lives of these employees and allow them to continue to grow this company in peace and make it thrive. These actions do the opposite.
Startup To Put Cellphone Tower on the Moon
An astronaut wandering the moon next year could use a smartphone to call home. If everything goes according to a plan, that is. A German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface. From a report:
The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17. (Launched in 1972, this was NASA's final Apollo mission to the moon.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to the Earth, the company will rely on LTE technology -- the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications. "We are cooperating with Vodafone in order to provide LTE base stations on the moon," Karsten Becker, who heads embedded electronics development and integration for the startup, told Space.com. "What we are aiming to do is to provide commercial service to bring goods to the moon and also to provide services on the surface of the moon," Becker added.
Almost All of FCC's New Advisory Panel Works For Telecoms
When the Federal Communications Commission went looking this year for experts to sit on an advisory committee regarding deployment of high-speed internet, Gary Carter thought he would be a logical choice. Carter works for the city of Santa Monica, California, where he oversees City Net, one of the oldest municipal-run networks in the nation. The network sells high-speed internet to local businesses, and uses the revenue in part to connect low-income neighborhoods. That experience seemed to be a good match for the proposed Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai created this year. One of the panel's stated goals is to streamline city and state rules that might accelerate installation of high-speed internet. But one of the unstated goals, members say, is to make it easier for companies to build networks for the next generation wireless technology, called 5G. The advanced network, which promises faster speeds, will require that millions of small cells and towers be erected nationwide on city- and state-owned public property. The assignment seemed to call out for participation from city officials like Carter, since municipal officials approve where and what equipment telecommunications companies can place on public rights of way, poles and buildings. But the FCC didn't choose Carter -- or almost any of the other city or state government officials who applied. Sixty-four city and state officials were nominated for the panel, but the agency initially chose only two: Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, California, and Kelleigh Cole from the Utah Governor's Office, according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through a Freedom of Information Act request. Pai later appointed another city official, Andy Huckaba, a member of the Lenexa, Kansas, city council. Instead the FCC loaded the 30-member panel with corporate executives, trade groups and free-market scholars. More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation's largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern, the nation's second-largest utility firm, have representatives on the panel.
Blizzard Starts Drive To Recruit More Women and Ethnic Minorities
An anonymous reader shares a report:
The company behind games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch has started a drive to recruit more women and ethnic minorities. The information is in a leaked internal email from Blizzard's CEO, seen by the website Kotako. It claims 21 percent of Blizzard's employees are women, and although that's similar to the rest of the gaming industry, it says it wants to do better. The company claims the initiative will focus on finding more female employees and getting them to stay on longer. At the moment women are leaving at a higher rate than men but it says it'll fall short of setting "quotas."
Microsoft Dismisses Consumer Reports' Surface Complaints, But Doesn't Offer Much Evidence
Microsoft has publicly responded to Consumer Reports, saying that it disagrees with the
publication's Surface reliability findings. But the company
hasn't offered much in the way of evidence. In a blog post, Surface chief Panos Panay writes:
In the Surface team we track quality constantly, using metrics that include failure and return rates -- both our predicted 1-2-year failure and actual return rates for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are significantly lower than 25%. Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1%. Surface also ranks highly in customer satisfaction. 98% of Surface Pro 4 users and Surface Book users say they are satisfied with their device, and our Surface Laptop and new Surface Pro continue to get rave reviews. Long-time watcher Paul Thurrott writes:
Does changing the time frame from "by the end of the second year of ownership" to "1-2 year failure rate" skew the results because more failures happen later in a product's lifetime? Also, he introduces the notion of "return rates" here. By definition, the feedback that Consumer Reports receives is from product owners, not those who have returned products. If someone is almost two years into device ownership, they are not returning the product. They're just using it. And dealing with it. So consider the issue muddled, in just one carefully-constructed sentence. Which I believe was crafted to confuse the issue. But there is more. "Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1 percent," Panay offers. It's not possible to understand how an "incident" relates to a "failure." Mostly because he doesn't explain the term. Likely because doing so would betray that this is an apples to oranges comparison. [...] I will point the reader to Welcome to Surfacegate, my description of Microsoft's feeble attempts to ignore and then slowly fix endemic issues with those exact two Surface models. And anecdotally, I'll point to the fact that the three Surface Book models I've used have all had reliability problems. But the biggest issue I have with "customer satisfaction" is that it's kind of a bullshit measurement when it comes to premium products.
Oracle Fiddles With Major Database Release Cycle Numbers
An anonymous reader shares a report:
Big Red has changed its database release cycle, scrapping names that see decimal points and numbers added on for an indeterminate amount of time, instead plumping for annual releases numbered by the year. So what would have been Oracle Database 188.8.131.52 will now be Oracle Database 18; 184.108.40.206 will come out a year later, and be Oracle Database 19. The approach puts Oracle only about 20 years behind Microsoft in adopting a year-based naming convention (Microsoft still uses years to number Windows Server, even though it stopped for desktop versions when it released XP). [...] Well, Big Red will surely be using the revamp as a way to boost sales of database licences -- a crucial part of its business -- which have been in decline for two years running. In fiscal 2016, Oracle reported a 12 per cent drop in annual sales of new software licences, and its most recent results for fiscal 2017 revealed a further 5 per cent drop. And, for all that Oracle has shouted about its cloudy success of late, it isn't yet a major money-maker for the biz. New software license sales make up a quarter of overall revenue, while support for that software makes up a further 45 per cent. In part, the new numbering will be a handy marketing ploy. Rather than playing with the decimal points, a release with a new whole number could be an attempt to give the impression of agility in the face of younger, fresher competitors. Meanwhile, fewer patches and releases on each system also allows Oracle to know more quickly, and more accurately, what security features each customer has. The annual numbering system is also a very simple way of telling you your system is old.
Developers File Antitrust Complaint Against Apple in China
A Chinese law firm has filed a complaint against Apple on behalf of 28 local developers alleging the firm breached antitrust regulations. From a report:
The complaint, lodged by Beijing-based Dare & Sure Law Firm, accuses Apple of charging excessive fees and removing apps from its local store without proper explanation, Lin Wei, an attorney at the firm told Reuters on Thursday. "During its localization process Apple has run into several antitrust issues ... after an initial investigation we consulted a number of enterprises and got a very strong response," said Lin. The law firm invited developers to join the complaint in April and on Tuesday filed it to China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees antitrust matters in the country.
HBO Hacker Leaks Message From HBO Offering $250,000 'Bounty Payment'
The HBO hacker has struck yet again. From a report:
Variety has obtained a copy of another message released Thursday by the anonymous hacker to select journalists in which HBO is apparently responding to the initial video letter that was sent informing the Time Warner-owned company of the massive data breach. The message from HBO, dated July 27, features the network's offer to make a "bounty payment" of $250,000 as part of a program in which "white hat IT professionals" are rewarded for "bringing these types of things to our attention." While the message takes a curiously non-confrontational tone in response to a hacker out to damage HBO, a source close to the investigation who confirmed the veracity of the email explained it was worded that way to stall for time while the company attempted to assess the serious situation.
Safari Should Display Favicons in Its Tabs
Favicon -- or its lack thereof, to be precise -- has remained one of the longest running issues Safari users have complained about. For those of you who don't use Safari, just have a look at
this mess I had earlier today when I was using Safari on a MacBook. There's no way I can just have a look at the tabs and make any sense of them. John Gruber, writing for DaringFireball:
The gist of it is two-fold: (1) there are some people who strongly prefer to see favicons in tabs even when they don't have a ton of tabs open, simply because they prefer identifying tabs graphically rather than by the text of the page title; and (2) for people who do have a ton of tabs open, favicons are the only way to identify tabs. With many tabs open, there's really nothing subjective about it: Chrome's tabs are more usable because they show favicons. [...] Once Safari gets to a dozen or so tabs in a window, the left-most tabs are literally unidentifiable because they don't even show a single character of the tab title. They're just blank. I, as a decade-plus-long dedicated Safari user, am jealous of the usability and visual clarity of Chrome with a dozen or more tabs open. And I can see why dedicated Chrome users would consider Safari's tab design a non-starter to switching. I don't know what the argument is against showing favicons in Safari's tabs, but I can only presume that it's because some contingent within Apple thinks it would spoil the monochromatic aesthetic of Safari's toolbar area. [...] And it's highly debatable whether Safari's existing no-favicon tabs actually do look better. The feedback I've heard from Chrome users who won't even try Safari because it doesn't show favicons isn't just from developers -- it's from designers too. To me, the argument that Safari's tab bar should remain text-only is like arguing that MacOS should change its Command-Tab switcher and Dock from showing icons to showing only the names of applications. The Mac has been famous ever since 1984 for placing more visual significance on icons than on names. The Mac attracts visual thinkers and its design encourages visual thinking. So I think Safari's text-only tab bar isn't just wrong in general, it's particularly wrong on the Mac.
Hearing Loss of US Diplomats In Cuba Is Blamed On Covert Device
bsharma shares a report from The Boston Globe:
The two-year-old U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba was roiled Wednesday by what U.S. officials say was a string of bizarre incidents that left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device. In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Some of the diplomats' symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.
Why Amazon's UK Tax Bill Has Dropped 50%
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC:
Amazon has seen a 50% fall in the amount of UK corporation tax it paid last year, while recording a 54% increase in turnover for the same period. This snippet of news raised eyebrows this morning when it was revealed. So what's going on? Taxes are paid on profit not turnover. It paid lower taxes because it made lower profits. Last year it made 48 million British Pounds (BP) or ~$62 million U.S. dollars (USD) in profit -- this year it made only 24 million BP or ~$31 million USD so it paid 7 million BP (~$9 million USD) tax compared to 15 million BP (~$19 million USD). What is more interesting is WHY its profits were lower. Part of the reason is the way it pays its staff. Amazon UK Services is the division which runs the fulfillment centers which process, package and post deliveries to UK customers. It employs about 16,000 of the 24,000 people Amazon have in the UK. Each full-time employee gets given at least 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) worth of shares every year. They can't cash them in immediately -- they have to hold them for a period of between one and three years.
If Amazon's share price goes up in that time, those shares are worth more. Amazon's share price has indeed gone up over the past couple of years -- a lot. In fact, in the past two years the share price has nearly doubled, so 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) in shares granted in August 2015 are now worth nearly 2,000 BP (~$2,595 USD). Staff compensation goes up, compensation is an expense, expenses can be deducted from revenue -- so profits are lower and so are the taxes on those profits.
Astronomers Detect Four Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting The Nearest Sun-Like Star
Tim Stephens reports via The University of California in Santa Cruz:
A new study by an international team of astronomers reveals that four Earth-sized planets orbit the nearest sun-like star, tau Ceti, which is about 12 light years away and visible to the naked eye. These planets have masses as low as 1.7 Earth mass, making them among the smallest planets ever detected around nearby sun-like stars. Two of them are super-Earths located in the habitable zone of the star, meaning they could support liquid surface water. The planets were detected by observing the wobbles in the movement of tau Ceti. This required techniques sensitive enough to detect variations in the movement of the star as small as 30 centimeters per second. The outer two planets around tau Ceti are likely to be candidate habitable worlds, although a massive debris disc around the star probably reduces their habitability due to intensive bombardment by asteroids and comets.