Apple's and Microsoft's 2019 Holiday Ads: Naughty Or Nice?
Long-time Slashdot reader
In Apple's 2019 holiday ad The Surprise (YouTube, 11.8M views), the reveal at the end is that two young girls thought to have been frittering away time on their iPads have been making an unforgettable, heartwarming tribute to their recently passed grandmother that brings tears to their grandpa's eyes. "This is a master class in comfy reassurance commercialism," writes Fast Company's Jeff Beer. "It's something we see all the time in advertising, where a product of convenience pitches itself as a problem-solver, simultaneously making you feel less guilty for needing it. Better meals. A cool, organized house. A clean house. Screen time. The emotional journey from haggard travel to family loss to inspirational kids, all set to the soundtrack from perhaps the most tear-inducing scene Pixar ever made? It's a sentimental super weapon."
And in Microsoft's holiday spot Lucy & the Reindeer (YouTube, 66K views), 6-year-old Lucy marches outside and uses her Mom's Surface and Microsoft Translator to question Santa's reindeer ("How do you guys fly? What does Santa do in the summer?") after seeing how Microsoft's Cloud solution enabled her Mom to close a big deal with her Japanese clients without having to understand a word of their language.
So, do the Apple and Microsoft holiday ads appeal to your sentimental or cynical side?
Ask Slashdot: Is Your Company Using Linux Desktops?
Yesterday I spoke to a friend of mine who works for a company developing mostly integrated network solutions which are purely Linux-based. He complained that he was unable to convince his IT department to provide him and his fellow developers and testers with a Linux desktop. They stated that "it was more secure when using a VM".
We both agreed that the more likely problem is that the IT department is solely geared towards a Windows desktop environment and that they have neither the skills nor the inclination to support any other platform.
This got me wondering: is this also your experience?
I bet Slashdot's readers have stories to tell, with enlightening experiences in corporate workplaces over the years gone by. So feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, and anecdotes in the comments.
And is your company using Linux desktops?
How Russian Trolls Spread Propaganda Using Uplifting Tweets
Two associate professors of communication at Clemson
spent two years studying online propaganda and state-affiliated disinformation campaigns on social media. This week in
Rolling Stone they explain how professional trolls share uplifting "Trojan horse" tweets meant to gain hundreds of thousands of followers, and then "use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt."
Professional disinformation isn't spread by the account you disagree with -- quite the opposite. Effective disinformation is embedded in an account you agree with. The professionals don't push you away, they pull you toward them... The quality of Russia's work has been honed over several years and millions of social media posts. They have appeared on Instagram, Stitcher, Reddit, Google+, Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Meetup, and even Pokemon Go, demonstrating not only a nihilistic creativity, but also a ruthless efficiency in volume of production. Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) has been called a "troll farm," but they are undoubtedly a factory...
The factory doesn't stop. They attack issues from both sides, attempting to drive mainstream viewpoints in polar and extreme directions. In a free society, we must accept that bad actors will try to take advantage of our openness. But we need to learn to question our own and others' biases on social media. We need to teach -- to individuals of all ages -- that we shouldn't simply believe or repost anonymous users because they used the same hashtag we did, and neither should we accuse them of being a Russian bot simply because we disagree with their perspective. We need to teach digital civility. It will not only weaken foreign efforts, but it will also help us better engage online with our neighbors, especially the ones we disagree with...
Russia's goals are to further widen existing divisions in the American public and decrease our faith and trust in institutions that help maintain a strong democracy... Their work was never just about elections. Rather, the IRA encourages us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy. Russia has dug in for a long campaign. So far, we're helping them win.
Their article includes specific examples from two accounts later suspended by Twitter.
It also notes that "consistent with past Russian activity, they attacked moderate politicians as a method of bolstering more polarizing candidates."
Genetically-Engineered Microbe No Longer Needs to Eat Food To Grow
"Synthetic biologists have performed a biochemical switcheroo," reports
They've re-engineered a bacterium that normally eats a diet of simple sugars into one that builds its cells by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2), much like plants. The work could lead to engineered microbes that suck CO2 out of the air and turn it into medicines and other high-value compounds.
"The implications of this are profound," says Dave Savage, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved with the work. Such advances, he says, could "ultimately make us change the way we teach biochemistry...."
In all, the evolved bacteria picked up 11 new genetic mutations that allowed them to survive without eating other organisms, the team reports today in Cell. "It really shows how amazing evolution can be, in that it can change something so fundamental as cellular metabolism," Milo says.
"The bacteria were
given just enough sugar so they wouldn't starve to death," explains long-time Slashdot reader
Tangential, "but had access to plenty of CO2 and formate.
"The process of evolution says that life finds a way to cope with stressful conditions like these, and some of the bacteria soon turned to the CO2 as a food source."
Can AI Predict the Stock Market? No, But the Attempt Was Interesting
"We all want to be rich by having a computer just generate piles of money for us," writes long-time Slashdot reader
TekBoy. "Here's one man's attempt at using AI to predict the market.
From the article (by tinkerer/writer/network guy Jason Bowling):
Models that did great during their initial training and validation runs might do ok during runs on later data, but could also fail spectacularly and burn all the seed money. Half the time the simulation would make money, and half of the time it would go broke. Sometimes it would be just a few percentage points better than a coin toss, and other times it would be far worse. What had happened? It had looked so promising. It finally dawned on me what I had done.
The results cycling around 50% was exactly what you'd expect if the stock price was a random walk. By letting my program hunt through hundreds of stocks to find ones it did well on, it did stumble across some stocks that it happened to predict well for the validation time frame. However, just a few weeks or months later, during a different slice of the random walk, it failed. There was no subtle underlying pattern. The model had simply gotten lucky a few times by sheer chance, and I had cherry picked those instances. It was not repeatable.
Thus, it was driven home -- machine learning is not magic. It can't predict a random sequence, and you have to be very careful of your own biases when training models. Careful validation is critical.
I am sure I will not be the last to fall victim to the call of the old treasure map in the attic, but exercise caution. There are far less random time series to play with if you are looking to learn. Simulate, validate carefully, and be aware of your own biases.
FedEx Warned Not To 'Invade' New York City With Sidewalk Robots
FedEx delivery robots invade New York City streets," read one newspaper's headline, describing the six-wheeled "SameDay" bots that the company is testing in four cities.
But this week New York City told them they're not welcome, CNN reports:
The delivery robot, called Roxo, is not actually being tested in New York, but was visiting the city for a special event, a FedEx spokesperson told CNN. Nevertherless, lawyers for the New York City Department of Transportation delivered a cease-and-desist letter to FedEx on Monday, warning that the robots were violating multiple traffic provisions... Motor vehicles are not permitted to operate on New York City sidewalks, and no motor vehicles may be operated without "having at least one hand" on the the steering mechanism any time the vehicle is moving, according to the letter.
"FedEx's robots wouldn't just undercut the jobs of hardworking New Yorkers -- they would be a danger on our crowded streets," Will Baskin-Gerwitz, Mayor Bill De Blasio's deputy press secretary, told CNN.
'Pre-Crime' AI Is Driving 'Industrial-Scale Human Rights Abuses' In China's Xinjiang Province
Long-time Slashdot reader
Among Sunday's releases from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on leaked Chinese documents about the detention of Xinjiang Uighurs — which they are calling the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II — is a section on detention by algorithm which "is more than a 'pre-crime' platform, but a 'machine-learning, artificial intelligence (AI), command and control' platform that substitutes artificial intelligence for human judgment...."
"The Chinese have bought into a model of policing where they believe that through the collection of large-scale data run through AI and machine learning that they can, in fact, predict ahead of time where possible incidents might take place, as well as identify possible populations that have the propensity to engage in anti-state anti-regime action," reports James Mulvenon, director of intelligence integration at SOS International LLC, an intelligence and information technology contractor for several U.S. government agencies. "And then they are preemptively going after those people using that data."
The Chinese government responded by calling the leaked documents "fake news."
The File /var/lib/dbus/machine-id Matters For Your Privacy (and Devuan Fixed It)
Long-time Slashdot reader
jaromil (Denis "Jaromil" Roio) writes:
A few days ago Devuan ASCII 2.1 was announced and one update has been overlooked by most media outlets: our dbus patch to re-generate machine-id at every boot.
This patch matters for everyone's privacy and I hope more distributions will follow our example, let alone Debian. We are dealing with important privacy implications: non-consensual user tracking is illegal in many countries and is not even mentioned in the machine-id documentation so far.
"In theory, the machine-id should be a persistent identifier of the current host," explains the README documentation. "In practice, this causes some privacy concerns..."
Jimmy Wales' New Social Network Skyrockets To 345,000 Members, Will Hire Journalists
Jimmy Wales' new social network
WT.Social started November with just 1,500 members. Four weeks later, it's skyrocketed up to 345,680 members -- and that's just the beginning.
Next year Wales plans to hire journalists, with the site's
users acting as their "editors-in-chief," fulfilling the dreams Wales had for the site's earlier incarnation as a crowd-sourced news platform Wikitribune, reports the journalism magazine
Wikitribune originally employed about ten to 12 journalists who created content and hit publish on stories for the site. But the whole editorial team was laid off in October last year after Wales told them costs were unsustainable with not enough money coming in from crowdfunding and no major investors. [On WT.Social] he instead enabled thousands of users to publish articles, a right that had previously been limited to Wikitribune's staff journalists....
"[T]here was a real feeling that this site was a journalists' website and you as a member are allowed to help them as a junior mini-journalist on the side. And that just didn't really work. Whereas to really foster that sense of community engagement and moral ownership of what they're doing, you kind of want to reverse that and say actually the journalists are here to serve whatever you're interested in so send them out, get them busy, you be the editor-in-chief and direct their work....
"We'll say: 'Here are some of the most active communities, you work for them -- what do they need you to do? What are the things that they want you to look into? Who do they want you to go and hunt down and interview?' So it's really putting journalists at the disposal of people who are in a certain area."
Wales tell the
Press Gazette that his original WikiTribune site had had a design that was "too intimidating" for non-journalists. "People felt like 'okay I have to go and write a whole big piece, edit it, publish it, all of that' rather than just sharing, interacting in a much more casual way..."
"So far [on WT Social] that's proven to be overwhelmingly true," Wales added. On his new site users are signed up for four "subwikis" by default -- Internet News, Long Reads, Fighting Misinformation, and Upcoming Newsworthy Events -- and this has started some good conversations. "People come on the platform and they're discussing things, sharing things, writing things in a much more fluid way."
WT.Social is currently looking for volunteer laravel or vue developers, as well as admins, and there's even a paid position as a community assistant.
Earth is Getting Windier -- Which Helps Wind Turbines Generate More Green Energy
"The world is getting windier," reports WBUR, citing
a new study published in the journal
Nature Climate Change. And they add that this could actually be
a boon to wind farm operators, "since faster wind means more efficient wind turbines."
Researchers analyzed decades of weather data and determined global wind speeds have risen dramatically over the past 10 years... Princeton University scholar Timothy Searchinger, one of the study's authors, says researchers expect wind speed to continue to increase, he says, which has multiple positive effects. Green energy through wind turbines will see these impacts. "When you increase the wind speed by a little bit, you still increase the power quite a lot," he says...
As a result of increasing wind speed, the average wind turbine generated roughly 17% more electricity in 2017 than it did in 2010, the study found...
Now, humans can capitalize on this change for at least the next decade, he says. "When you size wind turbines, you can size them differently to take advantage of that additional power," he says. "That's really the key point, is that if we can predict these changing patterns 10 years in advance, we can size our turbines so that they take advantage of the maximum amount of wind that is reasonable and economical."
Netflix Cancels Rebooted 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000'
Netflix's reboot of
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 made this year's "Best Of" lists from both The New York Times and Rotten Tomatoes. Yet apparently their bosses didn't like them, and have shot them into space.
In a controversial move poisoning Thanksgiving for many indie comedy fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 host Jonah Ray tweeted that Netflix has cancelled the young reboot after two seasons... The reprise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- whose maiden incarnation made hordes of fans airing on Comedy Central and Syfy throughout the '90s -- ran on Netflix for two seasons and 20 episodes beginning in 2017 after a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign by creator Joel Hodgon fueled its return.
"We don't know what the future holds for the show," Ray added in a later tweet, "it always seemed to figure out how to survive. From Comedy Central to Syfy. Then kept alive by RIFFTRAX & Cinematic Titan. Whatever happens, I want everybody to know that getting a chance to be on this show was a dream come true." Shortly after news of the show's cancellation, Hodgson tweeted reassurance to fans that he'll look to revive the series elsewhere....
Earlier this month, Shout! Factory TV announced the debut of an MST3K Twitch channel that unspools the series and promises to feature "related programming...." Fans can also turn to Pluto TV's 24/7 MST3K channel to gorge on the series pre-Y2K catalogue (1988-99).
The MST3K staff is also currently on a sprawling 60-plus city tour that will stretch into March 2020. In 2008 Joel Hodgson, the show's creator,
answered questions from Slashdot readers. "I've been a fan so long, I can't even remember when," posted CmdrTaco. "I've been shuttling my MST coffee mug from desk to desk for like 15 years now, so I'm pretty pumped that he'd waste your time with us."
In a gracious note this week, Hodgson emailed fans that "We've had a wonderful time working with the Netflix team, and will always be grateful to them. After all, they gave us the opportunity to spend the past few years aboard the Satellite of Love, and made it possible for new generations to discover the joys of riffing cheesy movies with your friends..."
The Bonkers, Bristly Story of How Big Toothbrush Took Over the World
In a few decades, two warring toothbrush giants have
carved out a market worth billions, with the help of a little science and some clever marketing. But where does it go next? From a report:
Not so long ago a toothbrush was a humble thing. A stick, in essence, with some bristles on the end. But with the rise of the electric toothbrush, they've become high-tech accessories. You can buy toothbrushes with associated apps, toothbrushes that automatically access the internet and order you new accessories when they divine that you need them and, for some reason, toothbrushes that are artificially intelligent. They can cost as much as a flatscreen TV or an engagement ring. An estimated 23 million people in Britain now use electric toothbrushes. Their rise is partly driven by our -- somewhat belated -- national realization that oral health is important, and by the fact that we have more disposable income than we did a generation ago. But it is also a story about the rise of an industry; about a struggle between market pressures and medical requirements; about the blurry line between research and public relations. And, in the end, about whether spending the cost of a weekend away on an ergonomically designed, ultrasonic, matte-black thing which looks like a defunct lightsaber will actually do more good than a $2 manual toothbrush from the supermarket. Is the electric toothbrush just a marvel of modern marketing or does it deserve plaudits for achieving what frustrated dentists (and parents) have struggled to do: getting us to spend a little more time brushing our teeth?
Wild Silkworms Produce Proteins Primed for Bioprinting
A mix of silkworms' proteins
acts as a scaffold for 3-D-printed tissues and organs. From a report:
Many research groups are testing "ink" made from silk proteins to print human tissues, implants and perhaps even organs. The process is a less costly alternative to conventional 3-D printing with collagen, a key protein in the body's natural scaffolding. Researchers in Assam, a state in India, are investigating using local silkworm species for the task -- they recently submitted a patent for bioinks using a combination of proteins extracted from local species Antheraea assamensis and Samia ricini, as well as the commonly used Bombyx mori. The scientists have woven them into synthetic structures ranging from blood vessels to liver lobes; in a paper published in September in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, they described mimicking the cartilage of an entire ear. Silk is a natural polymer, a substance with long, repeating molecular chains. It is mechanically strong and completely biodegradable, well suited for applications in tissue engineering.
To use it, researchers draw liquid silk from the silkworm's glands or dissolve silk fibers in solvents. They carefully mix the gelatinous liquid with a patient's stem cells, then build structures layer by layer with a 3-D printer. After implantation, the cells grow and replace the silken scaffold, which eventually degenerates into amino acids. Extracting and purifying collagen from animal remains, a common medical source, is complex and expensive. "Compared with collagen, silks have an immense advantage in terms of supply and processing. Local sourcing is also a clear plus in their use in India," says David Kaplan, who heads the department of biomedical engineering at Tufts University and is not involved in the new research. Silk from domesticated silkworms has been used widely in bioprinting, but Biman B. Mandal's laboratory at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati in Assam is among the first to incorporate wild silks.
Study Reveals Music's Universal Patterns Across Societies Worldwide
From love songs to dance tunes to lullabies,
music made in disparate cultures worldwide displays certain universal patterns, according to a study by researchers who suggest a commonality in the way human minds create music. From a report:
The study focused on musical recordings and ethnographic records from 60 societies around the world including such diverse cultures as the Highland Scots in Scotland, Nyangatom nomads in Ethiopia, Mentawai rain forest dwellers in Indonesia, the Saramaka descendants of African slaves in Suriname and Aranda hunter-gatherers in Australia. Music was broadly found to be associated with behaviors including infant care, dance, love, healing, weddings, funerals, warfare, processions and religious rituals. The researchers detected strong similarities in musical features across the various cultures, according to Samuel Mehr, a Harvard University research associate in psychology and the lead author of the study published in the journal Science. "The study gives credence to the idea that there is some sort of set of governing rules for how human minds produce music worldwide. And that's something we could not really test until we had a lot of data about music from many different cultures," Mehr said.