GNU's Former Kernel Maintainer Shares 'A Reflection on the Departure of Richard Stallman'
Thomas Bushnell, BSG, founded GNU's official kernel project, GNU Hurd, and maintained it from 1990 through 2003. This week on Medium he posted "
a reflection on the departure of RMS."
There has been some bad reporting, and that's a problem. While I have not waded through the entire email thread Selam G. has posted, my reaction was that RMS did not defend Epstein, and did not say that the victim in this case was acting voluntarily. But it's not the most important problem. It's not remotely close to being the most important problem.
This was an own-goal for RMS. He has had plenty of opportunities to learn how to stfu when that's necessary. He's responsible for relying too much on people's careful reading of his note, but even that's not the problem.
He thought that Marvin Minsky was being unfairly accused. Minsky was his friend for many many years, and I think he carries a lot of affection and loyalty for his memory. But Minsky is also dead, and there's plenty of time to discuss at leisure whatever questions there may be about his culpability. RMS treated the problem as being "let's make sure we don't criticize Minsky unfairly", when the problem was actually, "how can we come to terms with a history of MIT's institutional neglect of its responsibilities toward women and its apparent complicity with Epstein's crimes". While it is true we should not treat Minsky unfairly, it was not -- and is not -- a pressing concern, and by making it his concern, RMS signaled clearly that it was much more important to him than the question of the institution's patterns of problematic coddling of bad behavior. And, I think, some of those focusing themselves on careful parsing of RMS's words are falling into the same pitfall as he....
Minsky was RMS's protector for a long long time. He created the AI Lab, where I think RMS found the only happy home he ever knew. He kept the rest of the Institute at bay and insulated RMS from attack (as did other faculty that also had befriended RMS). I was around for most of the 90s, and I can confirm the unfortunate reality that RMS's behavior was a concern at the time, and that this protection was itself part of the problem...
Bushnell also calls Stallman "a tragic figure. He is one of the most brilliant people I've met, who I have always thought desperately craved friendship and camaraderie, and seems to have less and less of it all the time. This is all his doing; nobody does it to him. But it's still very sad. As far as I can tell, he believes his entire life's work is a failure..."
But Bushnell concludes that "It is time for the free software community to leave adolescence and move to adulthood, and this requires leaving childish tantrums, abusive language, and toxic environments behind."
Home Depot and Lowe's Accused of Scanning Millions of Customers Faces
JustAnotherOldGuy tipped us off to this story. The Daily Mail reports:
Home Depot and Lowe's are secretly using facial recognition technology to track customer movement in their stores, violating privacy laws in Illinois, plaintiffs in two class action lawsuits say.
The plaintiffs, who are Illinois residents, allege the two big box retailers are using the technology without properly notifying customers or seeking their consent, as required by state law... The collection of the biometric data requires written notification, a statement of purpose for the collection of that data and duration for which it will be kept, and written consent from the individuals from which the data is being collected, the lawsuits both state. Neither store, according to both lawsuits, met the benchmarks set in the Illinois law, also know as BIPA and which was enacted in 2008. "Plaintiffs and the class members did not consent to the disclosure or dissemination of their biometric identifiers," say both of the class actions.
Was Cuba's Mysterious Sonic Weapon Just Mosquito Gas?
Remember concerns about
possible "sonic attacks" in Cuba? Long-time Slashdot reader
kbahey shares an update:
In the wake of the health problems experienced over the past three years by US and Canadian staff in Havana, Cuba embassies, Global Affairs Canada commissioned a clinical study by a team of multidisciplinary researchers.
Now, the working hypothesis is that the cause could instead be neurotoxic agents used in pesticide fumigation.
The BBC has more coverage on this, saying it may have been merely mosquito gas.
"The researchers found that since 2016, Cuba launched an aggressive campaign against mosquitoes to stop the spread of the Zika virus," reports the CBC:
The embassies actively sprayed in offices, as well as inside and outside diplomatic residences -- sometimes five times more frequently than usual. Many times, spraying operations were carried out every two weeks, according to embassy records...
The researchers are now looking to collaborate with Cuban officials to determine whether any Cubans suffered similar brain injuries...
Ubisoft To Send Cease & Desist Requests To DDoS Services Attacking 'Rainbox Six Siege' Players
An anonymous reader writes:
Ubisoft plans to send cease & desist legal letters to operators of DDoS-for-hire services, also known as DDoS booters or DDoS stressors. The company said it plans on making this step as part of a global action plan to curb DDoS attacks aimed at Rainbox Six Siege multiplayer servers.
The French video game company has been under a wave of DDoS attacks ever since last week when it launched the Operation Ember Rise update for the Rainbow Six Siege game. Along with the update, Ubisoft also performed a reset of multiplayer rankings. Following the reset, multiple players are suspected to have started launching DDoS attacks at the company's servers.
The cheating players have been using the DDoS attacks to trigger server lag and slow down matches. The goal was to annoy opponents, who in many cases would end up disconnecting and receiving a penalty for leaving the match, allowing the player who launched the DDoS attack to gain rank points undeserved. The DDoS attacks have been widespread as several players got wind of the trick and started renting DDoS firepower from online DDoS for-hire sites.
Ex-Google Engineer Says That Robot Weapons May Cause Accidental Mass Killings
"A former Google engineer who worked on the company's infamous military drone project has sounded a warning against the building of killer robots," reports Business Insider.
Long-time Slashdot reader
sandbagger quotes their report:
Laura Nolan had been working at Google four years when she was recruited to its collaboration with the US Department of Defense, known as Project Maven, in 2017, according to the Guardian. Project Maven was focused on using AI to enhance military drones, building AI systems which would be able to single out enemy targets and distinguish between people and objects. Google canned Project Maven after employee outrage, with thousands of employees signing a petition against the project and about a dozen quitting in protest. Google allowed the contract to lapse in March this year. Nolan herself resigned after she became "increasingly ethically concerned" about the project, she said...
Nolan fears that the next step beyond AI-enabled weapons like drones could be fully autonomous AI weapons. "What you are looking at are possible atrocities and unlawful killings even under laws of warfare, especially if hundreds or thousands of these machines are deployed," she said.... Although no country has yet come forward to say it's working on fully autonomous robot weapons, many are building more and more sophisticated AI to integrate into their militaries. The US navy has a self-piloting warship, capable of spending months at sea with no crew, and Israel boasts of having drones capable of identifying and attacking targets autonomously -- although at the moment they require a human middle-man to give the go-ahead.
Nolan is urging countries to declare an outright ban on autonomous killing robots, similar to conventions around the use of chemical weapons.
In Hong Kong, Protesters and Police Are Now Doxxing Each Other
As protests continue to rock Hong Kong, social media sites are now being used to share names, photos, phone numbers, ages and occupationa of individuals "on both sides of the protest line," reports the Guardian:
Supporters of the Hong Kong government have sought to identify masked protesters at demonstrations, while protesters themselves also appear to have taken part, sharing private information about police officers and their families across Telegram... Hong Kong's privacy commission said it had received 1,376 complaints and 126 enquiries between 14 June and 18 September regarding personal information being leaked online, according to Stephen Kai-yi Wong, privacy commissioner for personal data. While journalists have become a high-profile target, about 40% of cases involve police officers while the rest concern government officials, community leaders, the families of police officers, and other citizens, Wong said....
Craig Choy, a spokesperson for Hong Kong's Progressive Lawyers Group and a specialist in data protection law, said the high volume of cases was unprecedented in Hong Kong... The privacy commission has referred nearly 1,000 cases for criminal investigation and consideration for prosecution. Eight people were arrested in July for doxxing police officers, according to Hong Kong Free Press. Choy said doxxing of police began after officers stopped wearing badge numbers on their uniforms when they attended protests -- leading protesters to attempt to identify officers independently as police tactics and arrests began to escalate.
Does America's First Commercial Offshore Wind Farm Portend a Clean Energy Revolution?
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Slashdot reader
Dan Drollette describes visiting one of North America's biggest experiments in renewable energy, off the coast of Rhode Island.
As the only commercial offshore wind farm in North America, Block Island is "setting the stage for what could be a rapid explosion in the number of commercial offshore windmills on the entire East Coast of the United States, assuming they leap the latest set of
ever-changing legal hurdles set by fossil-fuel friendly regulators in Washington, DC."
The goal of the Block Island test wind farm -- which started construction in the summer of 2015 and started generating some power in December 2016 -- is to see if it is technologically, environmentally, and scientifically possible to transfer offshore wind power technology from Europe to North America... This five-turbine, 30-megawatt endeavor has been effectively acting as a multi-year, real-world experiment in offshore wind power for the United States, paving the way for offshore wind farms on the northeast coast and the mid-Atlantic that could each be as much as 600 times the size of this test site, with hundreds of turbines generating electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes from just one full-scale, industrial-sized wind farm. There are more than a dozen large offshore "wind lease areas" suitable for wind farms currently up for bid from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Massachusetts alone is soliciting contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind development (half have now been sold), which is more than 50 times the size of this pilot project off of Block Island.... Once it is built and running, the Massachusetts project off Martha's Vineyard alone will provide enough energy to power at least 230,000 households, or about a third of the state's residential energy demand.
Other states are working on a similar gargantuan scale. All told, there are 28 offshore wind projects in the works on the East Coast, with a total capacity of 24 gigawatts, or 24,000 megawatts. To give a sense of the massive size of the generating power of the wind farms now in the works, the first commercial civilian nuclear reactor in the United States -- Massachusetts' Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, now decommissioned -- generated just 185 megawatts at its peak. But after decades of false starts and tangled litigation, a sea change appears to be occurring for offshore wind in the United States, as this country races to catch up with Northern Europe, where this renewable energy source has become increasingly mainstream and increasingly cheap... And these offshore wind projects could have a big impact on the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the newly contracted wind farms would offset carbon emissions equivalent to removing about 270,000 cars from the road. They could play a key role in reducing the region's climate change footprint, while allowing the New England economy to grow...
Consequently, this handful of windmills in one test plot have been closely watched, studied, and debated, from multiple points of view, by many different "stakeholders," as the parlance goes -- including Wall Street analysts, investment firms, engineers, economists, sociologists, fisheries experts, environmental activists, historic preservationists, ornithologists, marine mammal biologists, Native American tribes, scallopers, long-liners, oystermen, sport fisherman, real estate investors, the tourism industry, and homeowners. And, of course, lawyers. Many, many lawyers...
The article notes that often windmill power companies "can piggyback on existing infrastructure, in the form of the high-tension power lines built for decommissioned nuclear plants or retired coal-fired plants such as the 1,500 megawatt Brayton Point Power Station on the mainland -- the last coal-burning plant in Massachusetts, which was shut down in May 2017..."
After talking to several locals, he concludes that "If there is a common thread to the comments, it is that the windmills are quiet and distant, and that with a steady and predictable source of power, islanders no longer have to worry about blackouts or brownouts... If nothing else, wind had turned out to be more reliable than ferrying barrels of diesel fuel to a generator located on an island 13 miles out to sea."
SpaceX Tries Buying Out Homeowners Around Starhopper's Texas Launchpad
SpaceX "built its experimental spaceport in and around Boca Chica Village, a decades-old community of about 20 elderly residents," reports Business Insider.
But now "SpaceX is trying to buy as much of Boca Chica Village as it can and move people out...following an accidental brush fire, public-safety notices warning of the possibility for explosions, and a push to have the Federal Aviation Administration approve orbital-class launches with larger rockets."
"When SpaceX first identified Cameron County as a potential spaceport location, we did not anticipate that local residents would experience significant disruption from our presence," the letter said. "However, it has become clear that expansion of spaceflight activities as well as compliance with Federal Aviation Administration and other public safety regulations will make it increasingly more challenging to minimize disruption to residents of the Village... SpaceX is offering you three times the independently appraised fair market value of your property," the letter said. "The offer is good through two weeks from the date of this letter...."
For those who commit to a sale, SpaceX said it would cover closing and other real-estate costs. It also comes packaged with an additional perk. "SpaceX recognizes that your close proximity to its operations has offered a unique opportunity to experience at close-hand the development of what will be the world's most advanced rocket. In appreciation of your support, we will offer all residents of the Village who accept the purchase offer the opportunity to continue their connection with the development of Starship by extending an invitation to attend future private VIP launch viewing events that are unavailable to the public."
Homeowner Cheryl Stevens complained to CBS News that
the company has encroached on their neighborhood. "They're behaving as if this is Cape Canaveral. And it's not. It's not a military base. It's just a regular neighborhood, and a public beach, and a state highway. And suddenly, because they're here, stop the presses. Everything has to change for SpaceX."
SpaceX issued the following statement to CBS News: "We are entering a new and exciting era in space exploration and Texas is playing an increasingly important role in our efforts to help make humanity multi-planetary.
"As we develop Starship -- the world's most advanced launch system ever -- we are listening and responding to our neighbors' concerns and are striving to minimize disruptions as much as possible. We are working closely with Cameron County to facilitate public safety and provide regular road and beach closure updates to the public through a telephone hotline and on Cameron County's website."
Could A Scalp-Zapping Cap Help Reverse Male Balding?
"An electric patch makes hairless mice grow fur and may reverse balding in men when fitted inside a specially designed baseball cap," reports
At the moment, men who don't want to go bald can treat hair loss using minoxidil lotion, finasteride pills or hair transplant surgery. But minoxidil doesn't work for everyone, finasteride can reduce sex drive and fertility, and surgery is painful and expensive. Stimulating the scalp with electric pulses has also been shown to restore hair growth. However, it isn't a very practical treatment because it involves being hooked up to a machine or battery pack for several hours a day.
To overcome this hurdle, Xudong Wang at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues have developed a wireless patch that sticks to the scalp and generates electric pulses by harnessing energy from random body movements. The 1-millimetre-thick plastic patch contains layers of differently-charged materials that produce electricity when they come into contact and separate again -- a phenomenon known as the triboelectric effect. When the flexible patch was attached to the backs of rats, their movements caused it to bend and stretch, activating the triboelectric effect. The resulting electric pulses stimulated faster hair re-growth in shaved rats compared with minoxidil lotion and inert saline solution...
Wang also tested the patch on his father, who has been going bald for the past few years. "It helped him to grow a lot of new hairs after one month," Wang says. His team has now designed a baseball cap that encases the whole scalp in the triboelectric materials to stimulate hair growth, and is seeking approval to test it in men in a clinical trial... However, the hat will only work in men who are currently losing their hair or have recently become bald, because the skin loses its ability to generate new hair follicles after many years of baldness, Wang says.
Makers of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Respond To Criticism of Healthfulness
Last week NBC News ran an opinion piece by a certified nutritionist arguing that plant-based/meat-free alternatives at major fast food chains "
aren't actually any healthier."
Bloomberg got a response from two of the major meat-substitute companies:
According to Impossible, the attacks are all part of a "smear campaign to sow fear and doubt about plant-based meat." The company said its burgers and other offerings are better for people than animal products, delivering as much protein and bioavailable iron as beef without the associated downsides. And "processed" criticism doesn't fly, it said in a statement, given that all food involves some kind of processing. Beyond makes similar claims about its foods. "We know that consumers are increasingly pulling away from red and processed meat because of the levels of cholesterol and associated health baggage," said Will Schafer, vice president of marketing. The company also touts what it calls a simple production process that's more humane and sustainable than livestock production.
There's a lot of competition out there and on its way for Beyond and Impossible, including from Kellogg Co. and Tyson Foods Inc., which sold its stake in Beyond before that company went public. The Native Foods vegan chain and Ted's Montana Grill, co-founded by Ted Turner, are making their own veggie burgers, emphasizing what they call "whole" ingredients. "It just seems to go against the grain to me if you want to eat healthier that you would choose manufactured, chemically-produced products," said George McKerrow, Ted's chief executive officer and co-founder... Gene Grabowski, a partner at the communications firm kglobal, predicted a long fight between the real-meat and fake-meat forces. Much is at stake. A Barclays reports estimates the plant-based sector could reach $140 billion in sales globally in the next decade.
The director of nutrition at the nonprofit consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Bloomberg that it's not any healthier to order an Impossible or Beyond burger when eating out.
"The bottom line is that all burgers at restaurants are too high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, whether beef or plant-based..."
Oracle's New Supercomputer Has 1,060 Raspberry Pis
An anonymous reader quotes Tom's Hardware:
One Raspberry Pi can make a nice web server, but what happens if you put more than 1,000 of them together? At Oracle's OpenWorld convention on Monday, the company showed off a Raspberry Pi Supercomputer that combines 1,060 Raspberry Pis into one powerful cluster.
According to ServeTheHome, which first reported the story, the supercomputer features scores of racks with 21 Raspberry Pi 3 B+ boards each. To make everything run well together, the system runs on Oracle Autonomous Linux... Every unit connects to a single rebranded Supermicro 1U Xeon server, which functions as a central storage server for the whole supercomputer. The Oracle team also created custom, 3D printed brackets to help support all the Pis and connecting components...
ServeTheHome asked Oracle why it chose to create a cluster of Raspberry Pis instead of using a virtualized Arm server and one company rep said simply that "...a big cluster is cool."
Today is Code for America's 'National Day of Civic Hacking'
"The biggest day of the year for civic technologists, the National Day of Civic Hacking, is Saturday, Sept. 21, and, as such, affiliated groups across the country are preparing their events," reports
The National Day of Civic Hacking, simply put, is a day in which civic technologists and others interested in serving their communities come together in the service of tech projects aimed at doing just that. This is the seventh year for the event, which is organized in large part by the national nonpartisan and nonprofit civic tech group Code for America (CfA). This year, CfA has once again convened its many member brigades in the service of the National Day of Civic Hacking...
To help facilitate projects, CfA&'s brigade network has identified three potential starting points for participants. The first is mapping out the record clearance project from the user's perspective. With many jurisdictions doing things like decriminalizing marijuana, there have become new opportunities for record clearance. The idea here is to be centered on the user's experience seeking conviction relief from government agencies.
Next, the brigade network suggests developing a services usability scorecard for evaluating the accessibility of the expungement process and policies in states. Finally, they also recommend creating a user-friendly know your rights website, complete with digital resources for those who have criminal convictions on their records.
If you're in the U.S. this web page offers to
find a local event near you. (I attended my local event
in 2013.) GeekWire notes this year one event will even be
held at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond.
Related news and updates on social media will be using the hashtag #HackForChange
Developer Takes Down Ruby Library After He Finds Out ICE Was Using It
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet:
A software engineer pulled a personal project down after he found out that one of the companies using it had recently signed a contract with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The engineer, Seth Vargo, cited the ICE's "inhumane treatment, denial of basic human rights, and detaining children in cages," as the reason for taking down his library. The project was called Chef Sugar, a Ruby library for simplifying work with Chef, a platform for configuration management. Varga developed and open-sourced the library while he worked at Chef, and the library was later integrated into Chef's source code.
Earlier this week, a Twitter user discovered that Chef was selling $95,000-worth of licenses through a government contractor to the ICE. The news didn't go well with Vargo, who, yesterday, September 19, took down the Chef Sugar library from both GitHub and RubyGems, the main Ruby package repository, in a sign of protest. "I have a moral and ethical obligation to prevent my source from being used for evil," Vargo wrote on the now-empty Chef Sugar GitHub repository. Vargo's actions didn't go unnoticed, and in a blog post published later in the day, Chef Software CEO Barry Crist said the incident impacted "production systems for a number of our customers." The Chef team fixed the issue by scouring some of the older Chef Sugar source code and re-uploading it on their own GitHub account. Following public criticism of the contract, Chef Software CEO Barry Crist responded by saying the company had been a long-time ICE collaborator for years, since the previous administration, long before ICE became the hated agency it is today.
"While I understand that many of you and many of our community members would prefer we had no business relationship with DHS-ICE, I have made a principled decision, with the support of the Chef executive team, to work with the institutions of our government, regardless of whether or not we personally agree with their various policies," Crist said.
"I want to be clear that this decision is not about contract value - it is about maintaining a consistent and fair business approach in these volatile times. I do not believe that it is appropriate, practical, or within our mission to examine specific government projects with the purpose of selecting which U.S. agencies we should or should not do business," Crist added.
India Is Planning a Huge China-Style Facial Recognition Program
planning to set up one of the world's largest facial recognition systems, potentially a lucrative opportunity for surveillance companies and a nightmare for privacy advocates who fear it will lead to a Chinese-style Orwellian state. Bloomberg reports:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will open bids next month to build a system to centralize facial recognition data captured through surveillance cameras across India. It would link up with databases containing records for everything from passports to fingerprints to help India's depleted police force identify criminals, missing persons and dead bodies. The government says the move is designed to help one of the world's most understaffed police forces, which has one officer for every 724 citizens -- well below global norms. It also could be a boon for companies: TechSci Research estimates India's facial recognition market will grow sixfold by 2024 to $4.3 billion, nearly on par with China.
But the project is also ringing alarm bells in a nation with no data privacy laws and a government that just shut down the internet for the last seven weeks in the key state of Kashmir to prevent unrest. While India is still far from implementing a system that matches China's ability to use technology to control the population, the lack of proper safeguards opens the door for abuses.
Mysterious Magnetic Pulses Discovered On Mars
Initial results from NASA's InSight lander suggest that Mars' magnetic field
wobbles in inexplicable ways at night, hinting that the red planet may host a global reservoir of liquid water deep below the surface. National Geographic reports:
In addition to the odd magnetic pulsations, the lander's data show that the Martian crust is far more powerfully magnetic than scientists expected. What's more, the lander has picked up on a very peculiar electrically conductive layer, about 2.5 miles thick, deep beneath the planet's surface. It's far too early to say with any certainty, but there is a chance that this layer could represent a global reservoir of liquid water.
On Earth, groundwater is a hidden sea locked up in sand, soil, and rocks. If something similar is found on Mars, then "we shouldn't be surprised," says Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist at Brigham Young University who was not involved with the work. But if these results bear out, a liquid region at this scale on modern Mars has enormous implications for the potential for life, past or present. So far, none of these data have been through peer review, and details about the initial findings and interpretations will undoubtedly be tweaked over time. Still, the revelations provide a stunning showcase for InSight, a robot that has the potential to revolutionize our comprehension of Mars and other rocky worlds across the galaxy.