Warren Buffett Predicts 'Bad Ending' for Cryptocurrencies
"97% of all bitcoins are
held by 4% of addresses," reports Credit Suisse (in an article cited by Slashdot reader
CaptainDork). And elsewhere this week, Warren Buffett told CNBC that speculation in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies "will have a bad ending," adding that looking out five years he'd gladly bet against all of the cryptocurrencies.
Meanwhile, CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana has his own skepticism:
I am predisposed to view them as just speculative tokens in a cryptocurrency bubble that has inflated more quickly than any other in financial market history. Admittedly I'm green with envy for failing to foresee the explosive rally in the price of bitcoin when it was first brought to my attention several years ago. Having said that, there are many things I find quite ironic about how bitcoin and other "cryptos" are described. First, they are largely denominated, or discussed, in U.S. dollar terms... If the dollar is archaic, as the crypto-enthusiasts believe, why not speak only in crypto-terms...?
It's much easier to buy and sell dollars, stocks or commodities than it is to trade bitcoin and its brethren. The conversion of one crypto to another is relatively easy on these embryonic exchanges. But getting your digital wealth converted into cold hard cash is more problematic... And while the growth has been impressive, it remains very difficult to walk into any establishment and exchange a digital token for goods or services.
The article notes that the U.S. dollar still accounts for 65% of all global economic transactions, due to its status as the world's reserve currency, and concludes that "The adoption of cryptocurrencies as a global source of funds has a long way to go before staking a claim to the world's economy."
Fake 'Inbound Missile' Alert Sent To Every Cellphone in Hawaii
"Somebody sent out a false emergency alert to all cell phones in Hawaii saying, 'BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL'," writes Slashdot reader
flopwich, adding "Somebody's had better days at work." The Associated Press reports:
In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button. "We made a mistake," said Miyagi. For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea...
On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst... The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.
Is Finland's Universal Basic Income Trial Too Good To Be True?
It was one year ago that Finland began giving money to 2,000 unemployed people -- roughly $652 a month (€560 or £475). But have we learned anything about universal basic incomes? An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian:
Amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. "It's not really what people are portraying it as," said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime minister's office in Helsinki. "A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people."
While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland's trial was launched -- at a cost of around €20m (£17.7m or $24.3 million) -- by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland's stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work. Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract... According to Kanerva, the core data the government is seeking -- on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group -- will be "robust, and usable in future economic modelling" when it is published in 2019.
Although the experiment may be impacted by all the hype it's generating, according to the
Guardian. "One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time."
'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy
An anonymous reader writes:
The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."
The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."
The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "
The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."
"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years
Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan
experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports:
Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.
A developer on the Internal Tools team at Stack Overflow reveals some new statistics from their 'Trends' tool:
There appears to be a quick ascent, as the framework gains popularity and then a slightly less quick but steady decline as developers adopt newer technologies. These lifecycles only last a couple of years. Starting around 2011, there seems to be major adoption of a couple of competing frameworks: Backbone, Knockout, and Ember. Questions about these tags appear to grow until around 2013 and have been in steady decline since, at about the same time as AngularJS started growing. The latest startup is the Vue.js framework, which has shown quick adoption, as it is one of the fastest growing tags on Stack Overflow. Only time can tell how long this growth will last.
"Let's be honest," the post concludes. "The size of a developer community certainly counts; it contributes to a thriving open source environment, and makes it easier to find help on Stack Overflow."
Intel Unveils 'Breakthrough' 49 Qubit Quantum Computer
Long-time Slashdot reader
cold fjord writes:
Extremetech reports, "At CES 2018 this week, Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich declared the company's new 49-qubit quantum computer represented a step towards "quantum supremacy." A 49 qubit system is a major advance for Intel, which just demonstrated a 17-qubit system two months ago. Intel's working with the Netherlands-based Qutech on this project, and expanding the number of qubits is key to creating quantum computers that can deliver real-world results... "Qubits are tremendously fragile," Intel wrote in October. "Any noise or unintended observation of them can cause data loss. This fragility requires them to operate at about 20 millikelvin -- 250 times colder than deep space." This is also why we won't be seeing quantum computers in anyone's house at any point."
thanked the industry for "coming together" to address the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. "The collaboration among so many companies to address this industry-wide issue across several different processor architectures has been truly remarkable."
Peter Thiel Is Now Bidding on Gawker.com
An anonymous reader writes:
Its official. "Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made an offer for Gawker," reports Reuters, adding that the potential acquisition "would let him take down stories regarding his personal life that are still available on the website, and remove the scope for further litigation between him and Gawker." It was Thiel's 2016 lawsuit which bankrupted the site, prompting a Washington Post blogger to write that Thiel "killed Gawker once. Now it looks like he may kill it again."
Elsewhere the Washington Post argues the whole episode "highlighted the immense legal risk borne by news outlets already facing a precarious financial reality in the digital age." The Post's blogger describes Thiel as "a billionaire leveraging his wealth to obliterate a media outlet...as part of a personal vendetta."
Last month former Gawker staffers
attempted to crowdfund the purchase and relaunch of Gawker.com as a nonprofit media organization. But their 1,496 backers only pledged $89,844,
far short of the campaign's $500,000 target.
Will Facial Recognition in China Lead To Total Surveillance?
schwit1 shares a new Washington Post article about China's police and security state -- including the facial recognition cameras allow access to apartment buildings. "If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands,
I just have to look ahead and the door swings open," one 40-year-old woman tells the
Post. "And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It's good for kids because they often lose their keys."
But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents' old entry cards serve quite a different purpose. Now they can see who's coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the "bad guys" who once might have slipped by... Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people's identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology.
The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as "Xue Liang," which can be translated as "Sharp Eyes." The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform... At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a "Police Cloud" that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments -- and link it to everyone's identity card and face.
Many US States Propose Their Own Laws Protecting Net Neutrality
An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times:
Lawmakers in at least six states, including California and New York, have introduced bills in recent weeks that would forbid internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services. Legislators in several other states, including North Carolina and Illinois, are weighing similar action... By passing their own law, the state lawmakers say, they would ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users.
And they might even have an effect beyond their states. California's strict auto-emissions standards, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. "There tends to be a follow-on effect, particularly when something happens in a big state like California," said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at a nonprofit consumer group, Public Knowledge, that supports net-neutrality efforts by the states. Bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington.
In addition, a representative in Alaska's legislature has also pre-filed legislation requiring the state's ISPs to practice net neutrality, which will be introduced when the state legislature resumes on January 16th.
"The recent FCC decision eliminating net neutrality
was a mistake that favors the big internet providers and those who want to restrict the kinds of information a free-thinking Alaskan can access," representative Scott Kawasaki told a local news station. "That is not the Alaskan way, and I am hopeful my colleagues in the House and Senate will agree..."
The Independent also notes that Europe "
is still strongly committed" to net neutrality.
Erroneous 'Spam' Flag Affected 102 npm Packages
There was some trouble last weekend at the world's largest package repository. An anonymous reader quotes the official npm blog:
On Saturday, January 6, 2018, we incorrectly removed the user floatdrop and blocked the discovery and download of all 102 of their packages on the public npm Registry. Some of those packages were highly depended on, such as require-from-string, and removal disrupted many users' installations... Within 60 seconds, it became clear that floatdrop was not a spammer -- and that their packages were in heavy use in the npm ecosystem. The staffer notified colleagues and we re-activated the user and began restoring the packages to circulation immediately. Most of the packages were restored quickly, because the restoration was a matter of unsetting the deleted tombstones in our database, while also restoring package data tarballs and package metadata documents. However, during the time between discovery and restoration, other npm users published a number of new packages that used the names of deleted packages. We locked this down once we discovered it, but cleaning up the overpublished packages and inspecting their contents took additional time...
In cases where the npm staff accepts a user's request to delete a package, we publish a replacement package by the same name -- a security placeholder. This both alerts those who had depended on it that the original package is no longer available and prevents others from publishing new code using that package name. At the time of Saturday's incident, however, we did not have a policy to publish placeholders for packages that were deleted if they were spam. This made it possible for other users to publish new versions of eleven of the removed packages. After a thorough examination of the replacement packages' contents, we have confirmed that none was malicious or harmful. Ten were exact replacements of the code that had just been removed, while the eleventh contained strings of text from the Bible -- and its publisher immediately contacted npm to advise us of its publication.
They're now implementing a 24-hour cooldown on republication of any deleted package names -- and are also updating their review process. "As a general rule, the npm Registry is and ought to be immutable, just like other package registries such as RubyGems and crates.io... However, there are legitimate cases for removing a package once it has been published. In a typical week, most of the npm support team's work is devoted to handling user requests for package deletion, which is more common than you might expect. Many people publish test packages then ask to have them deprecated or deleted. There also is a steady flow of requests to remove packages that contain contain private code that users have published inadvertently or inappropriately."
Interviewing the Interviewer
Terry Gross, NPR's The Fresh Air host,
on the art of the Q&A:
"People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview," said Terry Gross.
Adult Themed VR Game Leaks Data On Thousands
chicksdaddy writes from The Security Ledger:
Somebody deserves a spanking after personal information on thousands of users of an adult virtual reality game were exposed to security researchers in the UK by a balky application. Researchers at the firm Digital Interruption on Tuesday warned that an adult-themed virtual reality application, SinVR, exposes the names, email and other personal information via an insecure desktop application -- a potentially embarrassing security lapse. The company decided to go public with the information after being frustrated in multiple efforts to responsibly disclose the vulnerability to parent company inVR, Inc., Digital Interruption researcher and founder Jahmel Harris told The Security Ledger. Jahmel estimated that more than 19,000 records were leaked by the application, but did not have an exact count.
SinVR is a sex-themed virtual reality game that allows players to navigate in various adult-themed environments and interact with virtual characters in common pornographic themes including BDSM, cosplay, naughty teacher, and so on. The company discovered the data after reverse-engineering the SinVR desktop application and noticing a function named "downloadallcustomers." That function called a web service that returned thousands of SinVR customer records including email addresses, user names, computer PC names and so on. Passwords and credit card details were not part of the data dump, Harris said.
Cryptocurrency Exchange Kraken Suddenly Goes Dark For Two Days
An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle:
One of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges was down more than 40 hours this week, causing clients to freak out... San Francisco's Kraken went offline at 9 p.m. on Wednesday for maintenance that was initially scheduled to last two hours, plus an additional two to three hours for withdrawals, according to an announcement on the company's website. "We are still working to resolve the issues that we have identified and our team is working around the clock to ensure a smooth upgrade," according to a status update on Kraken's website posted early Friday. "This means it may still take several hours before we can relaunch." Shortly after noon, the company said it was "still working to track down an elusive bug which is holding up launch." It promised customers "a substantial amount of free trading" after the problem was resolved. In previous updates, Kraken mentioned it is working on "unexpected and delicate issues" and assured clients their funds were secure, adding that "Yes, this is our new record for downtime since we launched in 2013. No, we're not proud of it."
It's 53 hours after the downtime began, and
their web page is still showing the same announcement.
"Kraken is presently offline for maintenance."
French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI
dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the
first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself:
First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"