Are There Dangers in a Cashless Society?
Slate asks why more businesses are refusing cash -- and investigates the downside. An anonymous reader quotes their report:
Stores are eliminating cash registers and coin rolls in pursuit of what they say is a safer, more streamlined payment process -- and one that most of their customers want to use anyway. At Dos Toros, co-founder Leo Kremer said that more than half of the shop's customers used cash when its first location opened in Manhattan in 2009. By the beginning of this year, that number had fallen to just 15 percent. At that point, the various hassles of dealing with cash -- employee training, banking fees, armored-truck pickups, and the occasional robbery -- outweighed the cost of credit card fees on those transactions. The shift wound up being more or less revenue-neutral, Kremer said, but saved a lot of time and trouble. Dos Toros' New York locations have been fully cash-free since the winter.... "After talking to the team and absorbing the flow at the register, we felt like almost everyone who used cash had a card. It just hasn't been an issue...."
But it would be hard to find anyone more gung-ho about the abolition of cash than credit card companies. Last summer, for example, Visa announced a $10,000 reward to 50 businesses that would give up cash entirely. "What concerns me about a cashless future is how much it benefits Wall Street," Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote to me in an email. "They can charge swipe fees of two to three percent not because that's what the service actually costs, but because they have monopoly power."
Citing services like Square and Apple Pay, the article notes that 4 in 10 purchases
used to involve cash, but between 2011 and 2016 it dropped to just 3 in 10 purchases (according to the San Francisco Fed). Yet the article's author also presents this counter-argument. "In Shanghai, the venture capitalist Eric Li told me a story about trying to get his morning coffee the morning after a storm had knocked out the internet on his block.
"No one could buy coffee, because no one was carrying cash."
118 All-Time Heat Records Set Around the Globe
"It's so hot,
even parts of the Arctic are on fire," reports Vox, citing wildfires in Sweden, while Greece "has declared a state of emergency as raging forest fires have killed at least 81 people and injured more than 190."
But heat-related disasters are happening around the world. In Japan
86 people have been killed by heatstroke, while another 23,000 people have been hospitalized -- about half of them over the age of 65 -- in a heat wave forecast to continue for another two weeks. "Japan hit 106 degrees on Monday, its hottest temperature ever," reports the Associated Press, adding that "So far this month, at least 118 of these all-time heat records have been set or tied across the globe." An anonymous reader quotes their report.
"We now have very strong evidence that global warming has already put a thumb on the scales, upping the odds of extremes like severe heat and heavy rainfall," Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said. "We find that global warming has increased the odds of record-setting hot events over more than 80 percent of the planet, and has increased the odds of record-setting wet events at around half of the planet..."
"The world is becoming warmer and so heat waves like this are becoming more common," said Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.
"Death Valley, California, has set three consecutive daily record-high temperatures of 127 degrees," reports the Washington Post, adding that "Sometimes, like right now in the Western U.S.,
it's too hot for airplanes to fly" because of heat-related changes in air density at high-altitude airports. In Europe, nuclear power plants in Finland, Sweden, and German were forced to cut electricity production because high temperatures
heated the seawater needed to cool reactors.
In northern California 38,000 people fled their homes as an 80,900-acre wildfire spread through the Shasta-Trinity area. Reuters reports the wildfire was caused "by hot, dry weather and high winds" -- and that it's
one of 89 large wildfires currently burning in 14 U.S. states.
Facebook Finally Discloses Pro-Brexit Ads
"The UK parliament has provided another telling glimpse behind the curtain of Facebook's unregulated ad platform by publishing data on scores of pro-Brexit adverts..." reports TechCrunch, adding that the 2016 ads "were run prior to Facebook having any disclosure rules for political ads. So there was no way for anyone other than each target recipient to know a particular ad existed or who it was being targeted at." An anonymous reader quotes their report:
The targeting of the ads was carried out on Facebook's platform by AggregateIQ, a Canadian data firm that has been linked to Cambridge Analytica/SCL... [I]t's not clear how many ad impressions they racked up in all. But total impressions look very sizable. While some of what runs to many thousands of distinctly targeted ads which AIQ distributed via Facebook's platform are listed as only garnering between 0-999 impressions apiece, according to Facebook's data, others racked up far more views. Commonly listed ranges include 50,000 to 99,999 and 100,000 to 199,999 -- with even higher ranges like 2M-4.9M and 5M-9.9M also listed....
The publication of the Brexit ads is, above all, a reminder that online political advertising has been allowed to be a blackhole -- and at times a cesspit -- because cash-rich entities have been able to unaccountably exploit the obscurity of Facebook's systemically dark ad targeting tools for their own ends, and operate in a darkness where only Facebook had oversight (and wasn't exercising any), leaving the public no right of objection let alone reply, despite it being people's lives that are indelibly affected by political outcomes.... The company has been making some voluntary changes to offer a degree of political ad disclosure, as it seeks to stave off regulatory rule. Whether its changes -- which at best offer partial visibility -- will go far enough remains to be seen.
Earlier this month the UK's data watchdog released a report titled "Democracy disrupted?" in which the UK's Information Commissioner
recommends an "ethical pause" of political advertising on social media to allow key players "to reflect on their responsibilities in respect to the use of personal data..." And this weekend an interim report from the House of Commons' media committee "said democracy is facing a crisis because the combination of data analysis and social media allows campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent," according to the Associated Press.
"Tech giants like Facebook, which operate in a largely unregulated environment,
are complicit because they haven't done enough to protect personal information and remove harmful content, the committee said."
Nvidia, Western Digital Turn to Open Source RISC-V Processors
An anonymous reader quotes
[W]hat's so compelling about RISC-V isn't the technology -- it's the economics. The instruction set is open source. Anyone can download it and design a chip based on the architecture without paying a fee. If you wanted to do that with ARM, you'd have to pay its developer, Arm Holding, a few million dollars for a license. If you wanted to use x86, you're out of luck because Intel licenses its instruction set only to Advanced Micro Devices. For manufacturers, the open-source approach could lower the risks associated with building custom chips.
Already, Nvidia and Western Digital Corp. have decided to use RISC-V in their own internally developed silicon. Western Digital's chief technology officer has said that in 2019 or 2020, the company will unveil a new RISC-V processor for the more than 1 billion cores the storage firm ships each year. Likewise, Nvidia is using RISC-V for a governing microcontroller that it places on the board to manage its massively multicore graphics processors.
Massachusetts Proposes Public Shaming of Net Neutrality Violators
An anonymous reader quotes CNET:
Massachusetts plans to protect net neutrality by naming and shaming internet service providers that don't adhere to open internet principles. Lawmakers in the state Senate have proposed a bill (S2160) that would create an "internet service provider registry" to track whether broadband and wireless providers adhere to policies that keep the internet open and neutral.
In the wake of the FCC's repeal of net neutrality, more than half the states in the union are considering their own, state-level net neutrality rules. Some states are tackling the problem with legislation (California, Oregon, Washington), while others (like Montana) are signing executive orders banning state agencies from doing business with ISPs that behave anti-competitively... when the FCC repealed net neutrality, it included a provision attempting to "pre-empt" (read: ban) states from protecting consumers. As a result, large ISPs have threatened to sue any states that stand up for consumer welfare, and at least one ISP (Charter Spectrum) has tried to use the repeal to wiggle out of state lawsuits for terrible broadband. Charter's efforts on that front have failed, and the the FCC's authority to tell states what to do has been highly contested.
Still, Massachusetts thought it might be a better idea to try and publicly shame ISPs into behaving.
One Year After Data Breach, Equifax Goes Unpunished
"It's been a year since Equifax doxed the nation of America through carelessness, deception and greed, lying about it and stalling while the problem got worse and worse," writes Cory Doctorow. Equifax's new CSO says they've spent over $200 million on security upgrades, in work being overseen by auditor from eight different states. An anonymous reader quotes Doctorow's response:
This all sounds very good and all, but it's still monumentally unfair. The penalty for Equifax's recklessness should have been the corporate death penalty: charter revoked, company shut down, assets sold to competitors... The fact that Equifax's investors and execs kept all the money they made by risking all America with shoddy security, and that no one went to jail for a monumental act of corporate recklessness, is a moral hazard, virtually guaranteeing that Equifax's competitors will not take the care they owe to the people on whom they have amassed nonconsensual, potentially life-destroying dossiers.
Equifax's CEO and several top officials did leave the company, notes
Government Technology -- but that's about it.
Thus far, no financial punishment has been imposed on Equifax itself. Despite contentious hearings, no Congressional action has been taken. A few months later, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau tabled action against the company. And while the Federal Trade Commission said it opened an investigation into the Equifax breach in September, the agency has since named as chief of its consumer protection division a lawyer who has represented Equifax. This past week, Equifax asked a federal judge to reject the claims from 46 banks and credit unions for payment of damages because of the massive data breach. The companies claimed that Equifax owes them for all the costs they incurred protecting data after the breach was revealed, costs that could easily run into many millions of dollars....
Equifax had revenue of $876.9 million during the second quarter of 2018, up 2 percent from the same quarter of last year, officials said.
Can Hoover Dam Become a Giant $3B Battery?
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to spend $3 billion to pump back the water that's flowing through Hoover Dam -- so it can flow through again later, during periods of peak energy demand. This generates a net profit for the dam's operators -- the pumping stations are powered by cheap solar and wind energy, while the dams
are currently operating at just 20% of their capacity. An anonymous reader quotes
The problem is that California has so much renewable energy available now, thanks in large measure to aggressive state mandated policies, that much of it is "constrained." That's utility industry speak for having to give it away or simply let it go to waste. In some cases, utilities in California actually pay other utility companies to take the excess electricity off their hands.
Why not store it all in some of Elon Musk's grid scale batteries? Simply put, pumped hydroelectric storage is cheaper than battery storage, at least for now. Lazard, the financial advisory and asset management firm, estimates utility scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents per kilowatt-hour compared with 15 cents for pumped hydro storage. "Hoover Dam is ideal for this," Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California tells the New York Times. "It's a gigantic plant. We don't have anything on the horizon as far as batteries of that magnitude."
Opera Browser Raises $115 Million In Its Stock Market Debut
An anonymous reader quotes CNET:
Opera, an underdog in a browser market dominated by Google's Chrome, raised $115 million in an initial public offering Friday. The company sold 9.6 million American depositary shares at $12 each, the high end of the $10-to-$12 range it expected for the IPO. When the stock started trading more broadly at about 7:30 a.m. PT, it rose as high as 28 percent above that before settling in at a 10 percent rise, to $13.24, during midday trading.... In fact, Opera raised a big notch more, because at the same time as the IPO, it also secured a $60 million private funding round from Tospring Technology, also known as Bitmain, which makes Bitcoin mining computers, IDG Capital Fund and IDG Capital Investors. And the financial firms underwriting the IPO had an option to release another 15 percent of shares -- 1.44 million. "It gets us roughly up to $190 million," Chief Financial Officer Frode Jacobsen said....
In the first three months of 2018, Opera reported net income of $6.6 million on revenue of $39.4 million. The company makes money through partnerships with search engines, including Google and Yandex, that pay for search traffic it sends their way and through advertising deals like promoting websites on the browser's bookmarking, or speed dial, page. Opera has 264 million monthly active users on smartphones and 57 million on personal computers, Opera said in regulatory filings. Starting in 2017, it built an AI-powered news service into its browser and now offers it as a standalone app called Opera News. That has 90 million monthly users. The news app and service has been responsible for the turnaround in Opera's recent financial fortunes, Jacobsen said.
'World View' Wants To Send You To the Stratosphere in a Balloon
First World View hung Google SVP Alan Eustace at the end of a balloon and then dropped him 135,908 feet back to Earth. Then, it sent a KFC chicken sandwich to the edge of space. Now, World View has figured out how to get high-altitude balloons to sail winds in the stratosphere and travel for thousands of miles. They're being used to take detailed pictures of the Earth, send communications to far off places and learn more about the weather.
This strange company was founded by two people who lived in Biosphere 2, and they say they're doing all this balloon work to get people to think differently about the planet. In a few years, they plan to send people up to the edge of space in a capsule and let them hang out for a couple hours, while they sip cocktails and reflect on life or something like that.
The flights would cost $75,000 per person -- the money from KFC is already being used to build new software (along with sensors, and of course, durable balloons).
Bloomberg Businessweek reports:
Since the Zinger, it's conducted more than 50 flights, primarily for the U.S. government, and kept its balloons up in the air for many days at a time. "People want us to do things like sit over the Red Sea and Indian Ocean and look for pirates," says Taber MacCallum, co-founder and chief technology officer. The company plans to start flying for commercial clients early next year. "Basically, our mission is to take over the stratosphere," he says.
Interestingly, Elon Musk also asked MacCallum's first company to design a greenhouse for Mars.
For Better or Worse, YouTube Now Adapts to Multiple Aspect Ratios
Lauren Weinstein writes:
YouTube very quietly made a very cool and rather major improvement in their video players today... YouTube is now adjusting the YT player size to match videos' native aspect ratios. This is a big deal, and very much welcome.
provided some before-and-after screenshots Friday, and acknowledged that "We launched this update on mobile awhile back (both Android and iOS) so this change also aligns the desktop and mobile viewing experiences."
Until now YouTube forced all videos into a 16:9 ratio by windowboxing them, meaning surround them with black vertical or horizontal bars like the old days of watching widescreen movies on VHS. In that sense, this isn't a huge change -- white space instead of black -- although the location of player controls moves to fit the video's size...
The aspect adjustments are apparently automatic, retroactive to all uploaded video, and if there's a way to turn the feature off in Creator Studio it's non-obvious... Update 7/27/18 7:48pm: A YouTube spokesperson has since clarified to Gizmodo that currently there is no way to disable this feature.
German State Plans To Migrate 13,000 Workstations From Linux to Windows
An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet:
The German state of Lower Saxony is set to follow Munich in migrating thousands of official computers away from Linux to Microsoft's Windows. As initially reported by Heise, the state's tax authority has 13,000 workstations running OpenSuse -- which it adopted in 2006 in a well-received migration from Solaris -- that it now wants to migrate to a "current version" of Windows, presumably Windows 10.
The authority reasons that many of its field workers and telephone support services already use Windows, so standardisation makes sense. An upgrade of some kind would in any case be necessary soon, as the PCs are running OpenSuse versions 12.2 and 13.2, neither of which is supported anymore.
According to the Lower Saxony's draft budget, €5.9m is set aside for the migration in the coming year, with a further €7m annually over the following years; it's not yet clear how many years the migration would take... Munich's shift away from LiMux -- the city's own Ubuntu-based distribution -- is expected to cost more than €50m overall, involving the deployment of around 29,000 Windows-based computers.
New Richter-Like Scale Is Here To Measure Alien Signals
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian:
Scientists have now created their own Richter-like scale [for measuring alien signals] to explain whether a finding is a damp squib or has truly seismic implications. The new scale allows scientists to rate interesting signals detected in searches for extraterrestrial intelligence from 0 to 10, where 0 is nothing to get excited about and 10 is equivalent to "an alien space probe orbiting the Earth or an alien shaking your hand," said Duncan Forgan, who worked on the project, at the University of St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science. Known as Rio 2.0, the scale is a proposed upgrade of an existing Rio scale that is already used by the alien-hunting community. It assigns scores to Seti ("search for extraterrestrial intelligence") signals by taking into account both the potential implications of the signal and the likelihood that it is genuine, rather than down to natural or human-made phenomena. Under the proposals, scientists could issue their own Rio scale number for any interesting signals they detect, but so could fellow academics who review their work for publication. The rating system is also being made available to the public. The scientists detailed the new Rio scale in the
International Journal of Astrobiology.
Canadian Malls Are Using Facial Recognition To Track Shoppers' Age, Gender Without Consent
At least two malls in Calgary are
using facial recognition technology to track shoppers' ages and genders without first obtaining their consent. "A visitor to Chinook Center in south Calgary spotted a browser window that had seemingly accidentally been left open on one of the mall's directories, exposing facial-recognition software that was running in the background of the digital map," reports CBC.ca. "They took a photo and
posted it to the social networking site Reddit on Tuesday." From the report:
The mall's parent company, Cadillac Fairview, said the software, which they began using in June, counts people who use the directory and predicts their approximate age and gender, but does not record or store any photos or video from the directory cameras. Cadillac Fairview said the software is also used at Market Mall in northwest Calgary, and other malls nationwide. Cadillac Fairview said currently the only data they collect is the number of shoppers and their approximate age and gender, but most facial recognition software can be easily adapted to collect additional data points, according to privacy advocates. Under Alberta's Personal Information Privacy Act, people need to be notified their private information is being collected, but as the mall isn't actually saving the recordings, what they're doing is legal. It's not known how many other Calgary-area malls are using the same or similar software and if they are recording the data.
An Open Source, DIY Spacesuit Is About To Get Its First Life Or Death Test
Pacific Spaceflight is a small group of volunteers that has spent the last decade developing an open source, DIY spacesuit in their members' living rooms. This fall its creator will fly to over 60,000 feet in a hot air balloon, known as the Armstrong Limit, the point at which exposed body fluids will boil away if not protected in a pressured vessel. [A post on Medium provides a] deep dive into the story of Pacific Spaceflight and how to build your own spacesuit. Here is an excerpt from the report:
There are two main types of spacesuits: Intravehicular activity (IVA) suits worn inside spacecraft, and those worn outside for extravehicular activities (EVA). IVA spacesuits are mostly there as a backup in case of an emergency, like the sudden loss of pressure in a spacecraft. This makes them inherently simpler since they don't have to account for things like radiation exposure and the gloves can just be rubber gloves similar to those you might use to wash your dishes. [...] Smith's first suits were made by modifying old scuba diving suits to fit his needs. Yet as he became more familiar with pressure suit design and his own requirements, he started to assemble everything from scratch. These days, he and the other Pacific Spaceflight volunteers cut their own fabric and pretty much make everything on their own or repurpose common household items as necessary (Smith said one of the few things the group can't make on its own is the suit's zippers). Smith will release the designs of the spacesuit as an open source blueprint once the suit is perfected and properly tested. The final version will reportedly cost less than $1,000 of materials to build.