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How Tim Berners-Lee Will Fix the Internet

Sun, 01/17/2021 - 00:34
"Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who was knighted for inventing the internet navigation system known as the World Wide Web, wants to re-make cyberspace once again," reports Reuters: With a new startup called Inrupt, Berners-Lee aims to fix some of the problems that have handicapped the so-called open web in an age of huge, closed platforms such as Facebook. Building on ideas developed by an open-source software project called Solid, Inrupt promises a web where people can use a single sign-on for any service and personal data is stored in "pods," or personal online data stores, controlled by the user. "People are fed up with the lack of controls, the silos," said Berners-Lee, co-founder and chief technology officer of Inrupt, in an interview at the Reuters Next conference... John Bruce, a veteran technology executive who is CEO of Inrupt, said the company had signed up Britain's National Health Service, the BBC and the government of Flanders in Belgium as pilot customers, and hoped to announce many more by April... A key aim for Inrupt is to get software developers to write programs for the platform. Inrupt, like the original web, is at its core mostly a set of protocols for how machines talk to one another, meaning that specific applications bring it to life. "The use cases are so broad, it's like a do-over for the web," Berners-Lee said. In a video interview, Berners-Lee tells Reuters that what people are worried about isn't privacy per se but "the lack of empowerment" — for example, to collaborate with people. And then he acknowledges that the worldwide web does suffer from limited access control. "I wanted it to be a collaborative space, but in a way that was naive, because collaborative spaces you need to be private. You need to start off with just a limited sharing, and then you allow the sharing to increase." Social networks provided some features like a unique login and identity. But unfortunately, then "The large social networks will tend to get larger" — and ultimately without a single global signon, users then become trapped in separate silos.

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After 2 Years on Mars, NASA's Digger Declared Dead

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 22:45
"NASA declared the Mars digger dead Thursday after failing to burrow deep into the red planet to take its temperature," reports the Associated Press: Scientists in Germany spent two years trying to get their heat probe, dubbed the mole, to drill into the Martian crust. But the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter) device that is part of NASA's InSight lander couldn't gain enough friction in the red dirt. It was supposed to bury 16 feet (5 meters) into Mars, but only drilled down a couple of feet (about a half meter). Following one last unsuccessful attempt to hammer itself down over the weekend with 500 strokes, the team called it quits. "We've given it everything we've got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible," said the German Space Agency's Tilman Spohn, the lead scientist for the experiment... InSight's French seismometer, meanwhile, has recorded nearly 500 Marsquakes, while the lander's weather station is providing daily reports.

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'Major Component Malfunction' Ends SLS Rocket Test Early. NASA Considers New Timeline

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 21:05
"NASA's rocket charged with taking the agency back to the moon fired its four main engines Saturday afternoon, but the test in Mississippi was cut short after a malfunction caused an automatic abort," reports Florida Today... "We did get an MCF on engine four," a control room member said less than a minute into the test fire, using an initialism that stands for "major component malfunction...." The engines fired for 12 more seconds after the exchange before an automatic shutdown was called. The test was meant to last eight minutes — the full duration needed for the booster during its Artemis program liftoff — but only ran less than two minutes. Prime contractor Boeing previously said the test would need to run at least 250 seconds, or more than four minutes, for teams to gather enough data to move forward with transport to Kennedy Space Center and launch sometime before the end of the year. An exact plan moving forward, which could mean a second test and delay before transport to Florida, had not yet been released by Saturday evening. Or, as the Guardian reports, "It was unclear whether Boeing and Nasa would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022." In a press conference tonight, a NASA official specifically addressed the question of whether or not a launch this year was still feasible. "I think it's still too early to tell. I think as we figure out what went wrong, we're going to know what the future holds. And right now we just don't know... "Not everything went according to script today, but we got a lot of great data, a lot of great information. I have absolutely total confidence in the team to figure out what the anomaly was, figure out how to fix it, and then get after it again... Depending on what we learn, we might not have to do it again." They added that there was no sign of engine damage, and emphasized to reporters another way to view the significance of this afternoon's event. "A rocket capable of taking humans to the moon, was firing, all four engines at the same time." And they also stressed that this afternoon's result was not a failure -- but a test. "When you test, you learn things..." "We're going to make adjustments, and we're going to fly to the moon. That's what the Artemis program is all about, that's what NASA is all about, and that's what America is all about. We didn't get everything we wanted, and yeah, we're going to have to make adjustments. But this was a test, and this is why we test. "If you're expecting perfection on a first test, then you've never tested before." "The date is set," NASA had tweeted Friday, thanking its partners Boeing Space and Aerojet Rocketdyne for Saturday's "hot fire" test of the SLS's core stage. "One of NASA's main goals for 2021 is to launch Artemis I, an uncrewed moon mission meant to show the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket can safely send humans to our lunar neighbor," reported CNET. "But first, NASA plans to make some noise with a fiery SLS test on Saturday." Below is the original report that schwit1 had shared from Space.com: It's a critical test for NASA and the final step in the agency's "Green Run" series of tests to ensure the SLS rocket is ready for its first launch... In the upcoming hot-fire engine test, engineers will load the Boeing-built SLS core booster with over 700,000 gallons of cryogenic (that's really cold) propellant into the rocket's fuel tanks and light all four of its RS-25 engines at once. The engines will fire for 485 seconds (a little over 8 minutes) and generate a whopping 1.6 million pounds of thrust throughout the test... Following the success of this hot fire test and subsequent uncrewed missions to the moon, "the next key step in returning astronauts to the moon and eventually going on to Mars," Jeff Zotti, the RS-25 program director at Aerojet Rocketdyne said during the news conference. NASA's SLS program manager John Honeycutt agreed. "This powerful rocket is going to put us in a position to be ready to support the agency in the country's deep space mission to the moon and beyond," he said.

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Robert Cringley Predicted 'The Death of IT' in 2020. Was He Right?

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 19:34
Yesterday long-time tech pundit Robert Cringley reviewed the predictions he'd made at the beginning of last year. "Having done this for over 20 years, historically I'm correct abut 70 percent of the time, but this year could be a disappointment given that I'm pretty sure I didn't predict 370,000 deaths and an economy in free-fall. "We'll just have to see whether I was vague enough to get a couple right." Here's some of the highlights: I predicted that IBM would dump a big division and essentially remake itself as Red Hat, its Linux company. Well yes and no. IBM did announce a major restructuring, spinning-off Global Technology Services just as I predicted (score one for me) but it has all happened slowly because everything slows down during a pandemic. The resulting company won't be called Red Hat (yet), but the rest of it was correct so I'm going to claim this one, not that anybody cares about IBM anymore... I predicted that working from home would accelerate a trend I identified as the end of IT, by which I meant the kind of business IT provided and maintained by kids from that office in the basement. By working from home, we'd all become our own IT guys and that would lead to acceleration in the transition of certain technologies, especially SD-WAN and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)... "That's the end-game if there is one — everything in the cloud with your device strictly for input and output, painting screens compressed with HTML5. It's the end of IT because your device will no longer contain anything, so it can be simply replaced via Amazon if it is damaged or lost, with the IT kid in the white shirt becoming an Uber driver (if any of those survive)." It was a no-brainer, really, and I was correct: Internet-connected hardware sales surged, SASE took over whether you even knew it or not, and hardly any working from home was enabled by technology owned by the business, itself. It's key here that the operant term for working from home became "Zooming" — a third-party public brand built solely in the cloud. Finally, I predicted that COVID-19 would accelerate the demise of not just traditional IT, but also IT contractors, because the more things that could be done in the cloud the less people would be required to do them. So what actually happened? Well I was right about the trend but wrong about the extent. IT consulting dropped in 2020 by about 19 percent, from $160 billion to $140 billion. That's a huge impact, but I said "kill" and 19 percent isn't even close to dead. So I was wrong.

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Online Far-Right Movements Fracture, as 'Gullible' QAnon Supporters Criticized

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 18:34
"Online far-right movements are splintering," argues NBC News: Users on forums that openly helped coordinate the Jan. 6 riot and called for insurrection...have become increasingly agitated with QAnon supporters, who are largely still in denial that President Donald Trump will no longer be in the Oval Office after Jan. 20... [QAnon adherents] have identified Inauguration Day as a last stand, and falsely think he will force a 10-day, countrywide blackout that ends in the mass execution of his political enemies and a second Trump term... According to researchers who study the real-life effects of the QAnon movement, the false belief in a secret plan for Jan. 20 is irking militant pro-Trump and anti-government groups, who believe the magical thinking is counterproductive to future insurrections... While several specific doomsdays have passed without any prophecies coming true, experts who study QAnon believe another failed prophecy on Inauguration Day could further decimate the movement. Fredrick Brennan, who created the website 8chan where "Q" posts and has spent the last two years attempting to have the site removed from the internet for its ties to white supremacist terror attacks, said he believes reality may devastate the movement on Inauguration Day. "This week has been hugely demoralizing so far and that will be the final straw," he said. "Even though Q is at the moment based on Donald Trump, it is certainly possible for a significant faction to rise up that believes he was in the deep state all along and foiled the plan." The fracture is "apparent on viral TikToks and Facebook posts," reports NBC News, with one TikTok post mocking "the number of the gullible people who are still out there saying Q is going to run to the rescue."

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Apple Suspended Social Media Platform Wimkin From Its App Store

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 17:34
Apple "suspended" the social media platform Wimkin from its App Store, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, "part of a widening crackdown by tech companies on potentially dangerous content during the presidential transition." Long-time Slashdot reader phalse phace shares their report: Mr. Sheppard said the takedowns on the platform, which has 300,000 users and mimics some of the functions of Facebook, pales in comparison to content removals by much larger competitors. "I can't fault them for looking at it," Mr. Sheppard said of Apple. "I just wish they would give us a chance..." Mr. Sheppard said his team is installing additional security measures, including tools that automatically flag keywords such as "murder" and "killing." Apple's App Review Board said in a message to Mr. Sheppard Tuesday that his proposals to limit further harmful content failed to satisfy its rules... Mr. Sheppard said Thursday night that he was in contact with Apple officials on possible ways to meet the tech company's standards and eventually return to the App Store... Representatives of the Google Play app store also sent Mr. Sheppard a warning of potential removal Thursday morning, giving him 24 hours to implement new policies, according to a copy of their correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google didn't respond to requests for comment. The site has just five moderators in total, Sheppard tells the Journal. "We're not out there to fact-check. We're out there to keep people safe

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Watch NASA Test-Fire Its SLS Mega-Rocket Engines

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 16:20
"The date is set," NASA tweeted yesterday, thanking its partners Boeing Space and Aerojet Rocketdyne for Saturday's "hot fire" test of the SLS's core stage. "One of NASA's main goals for 2021 is to launch Artemis I, an uncrewed moon mission meant to show the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket can safely send humans to our lunar neighbor," reports CNET. "But first, NASA plans to make some noise with a fiery SLS test on Saturday." Live coverage of the event begins at 1:20 p.m. PT on NASA TV, reports Digital Trends, noting that NASA is targeting a two-hour window for the actual SLS rocket test starting 40 minutes later at 2 p.m. PT. schwit1 shares this report from Space.com: It's a critical test for NASA and the final step in the agency's "Green Run" series of tests to ensure the SLS rocket is ready for its first launch... In the upcoming hot-fire engine test, engineers will load the Boeing-built SLS core booster with over 700,000 gallons of cryogenic (that's really cold) propellant into the rocket's fuel tanks and light all four of its RS-25 engines at once. The engines will fire for 485 seconds (a little over 8 minutes) and generate a whopping 1.6 million pounds of thrust throughout the test... Following the success of this hot fire test and subsequent uncrewed missions to the moon, "the next key step in returning astronauts to the moon and eventually going on to Mars," Jeff Zotti, the RS-25 program director at Aerojet Rocketdyne said during the news conference. NASA's SLS program manager John Honeycutt agreed. "This powerful rocket is going to put us in a position to be ready to support the agency in the country's deep space mission to the moon and beyond," he said.

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Thousands of Users Unknowingly Joined Signal Because of a 12-Year-Old's App

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 15:24
"At least 10,000 Signal users can be attributed to a 12-year-old kid in India who created a somewhat popular clone of the encrypted chat app," reports Motherboard: Dev Sharma, a Signal user from Melbourne, Australia, found the Signal clone when he encountered an unusual thing: Signal displayed a pop-up showing that their friend had just joined the app. Sharma messaged their friend, but the friend had never even heard of Signal, despite apparently using the app. The friend had downloaded a different app called "Calls Chat," according to a tweet from Dev. It turned out, Calls Chat is actually a clone of Signal and lets users communicate with people on the legitimate Signal app. The app may have been harmless in this instance, but its existence and thousands of downloads shows how it can be relatively easy for someone to take the open source code of Signal and repurpose it for their own means, potentially misleading users about what they're actually downloading in the process. "I didn't know I was creating a clone of Signal, in fact I didn't even know such an app existed," Dheeraj, the boy who made the clone, told Motherboard in a phone call... The Google Play Store bars developers from impersonating other apps or making others that are deceptive, however. Google told Motherboard on Wednesday that the chat app is no longer available on the Play Store.

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Google Employees Try Baking Recipes Created by AI

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 14:15
"Behold the cakie: It has the crispiness of a cookie and the, well, 'cakiness' of a cake." So says a triumphant blog post by Google Cloud's developer advocate and an applied AI Engineer for Google's Cloud AI. "We also made breakies, which were more like fluffy cookies, almost the consistency of a muffin" (or bread). Food and Wine explains the project (in an article shared by Slashdot reader John Trumpian): Inspired by the pandemic-spawned spike in searches for baking, the team at Google Cloud "decided to dive a little deeper into the trend and try to understand the science behind what makes cookies crunchy, cake spongy and bread fluffy," according to a post on their blog. Then, once armed with that machine learning knowledge, they attempted to mix these attributes into what they bill as "two completely new baking recipes...." [T]hese Google Cloud employees organized about 700 recipes covering cookies, cakes, and breads — standardizing measurements, isolating the key ingredients, and re-categorizing things like banana breads that aren't really "breads." Then, they fed them into a tool called "AutoML Tables" to create a machine learning model that was able to predict whether a recipe was a cookie, cake, or bread based on its ingredient amounts. ["If you've never tried AutoML Tables, it's a code-free way to build models from the type of data you'd find in a spreadsheet like numbers and categories — no data science background required," explains the blog post.] Of course, recipes don't necessarily fit perfectly into one category. As Sara Robinson, who led the project, explained, a recipe might come back as 97 percent bread, 2 percent cake, and 1 percent cookie. So what if she asked the model to create its own recipe: something that's 50 percent cookie and 50 percent cake? That's how the Cakie was born. And she was happily surprised by the results. "It is yummy," Robinson said. "And it strangely tastes like what I'd imagine would happen if I told a machine to make a cake cookie hybrid." Based on that success, she and colleague Dale Markowitz continued to tweak their model — which resulted in the Breakie. "We should caveat that while our model gave us ingredients, it didn't spit out any baking directions, so we had to improvise those ourselves," the blog post explains. "And, we added chocolate chips and cinnamon for good measure." Robinson also built a prediction-making web app to help quickly experiment with different ingredient ratios. They ultimately identified which ingredients were the biggest "signal" of cake-ness, cookie-ness, and bread-ness, concluding that "In our case, the amount of butter, sugar, yeast and egg in a recipe all seemed to be important indicators..."

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Superconducting Microprocessors? Turns Out They're Ultra-Efficient

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 13:08
Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes IEEE Spectrum: Computers use a staggering amount of energy today. According to one recent estimate, data centers alone consume two percent of the world's electricity, a figure that's expected to climb to eight percent by the end of the decade. To buck that trend, though, perhaps the microprocessor, at the center of the computer universe, could be streamlined in entirely new ways. One group of researchers in Japan have taken this idea to the limit, creating a superconducting microprocessor — one with zero electrical resistance. The new device, the first of its kind, is described in a study published last month in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits ... The price of entry for the niobium-based microprocessor is of course the cryogenics and the energy cost for cooling the system down to superconducting temperatures. "But even when taking this cooling overhead into account," says Christopher Ayala, an Associate Professor at the Institute of Advanced Sciences at Yokohama National University, in Japan, who helped develop the new microprocessor, "The AQFP is still about 80 times more energy-efficient when compared to the state-of-the-art semiconductor electronic device, [such as] 7-nm FinFET, available today."

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Joe Biden Promotes 'Science Advisor' to US Cabinet-Level Position

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 12:19
"President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday that he has chosen a pioneer in mapping the human genome — the so-called 'book of life' — to be his chief science adviser," reports the Associated Press, "and is elevating the top science job to a Cabinet position." Biden nominated Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome, as director of Office of Science and Technology Policy and adviser on science. He is the first life scientist to have that job. His predecessor is a meteorologist. Saying "science will always be at the forefront of my administration," Biden said he is boosting the science advisor post to Cabinet level, a first in White House history.... "Elevating (the science adviser) role to member in the President's Cabinet clearly signals the administration's intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion," said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society.

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US President-Elect Biden Starts New Twitter Account, Criticizes Policy on POTUS Account

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 11:34
"This will be the account for my official duties as President," tweeted U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Thursday — but from a new account at @PresElectBiden (which will transition to @POTUS after Wednesday's inauguration). But Bloomberg reports Biden is still "clashing with the social media company over its decision to deny the incoming administration millions of existing White House followers." Biden's transition opened @PresElectBiden in order to start building a following for one of the official accounts the new president will inherit at noon on Jan. 20: @POTUS. In a change in practice from 2017, when President Donald Trump entered office, Twitter Inc. plans to reset both the @POTUS and @WhiteHouse official accounts to zero followers for Biden. The two accounts currently have a massive audience — nearly 60 million followers combined, though there is overlap. Trump got a head start in 2017 when he inherited about 12 million followers of @POTUS from President Barack Obama's tenure, plus millions of followers from other official accounts. Though Trump used his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, as his primary social media mouthpiece throughout his presidency, Biden's aides think it's unfair Twitter isn't handing over followers along with the official accounts... Twitter said it is too technically difficult to copy or roll over the millions of followers from the Trump White House accounts to Biden's official accounts. But two transition officials privately expressed skepticism, pointing to other social media platforms' handling of the change in administration. Both Facebook Inc. and its subsidiary Instagram will duplicate the millions of followers currently following the Trump White House accounts to follow new Biden White House accounts. "They are advantaging President Trump's first days of the administration over ours," Rob Flaherty, the transition's digital director who will be director of digital strategy in the Biden White House, said of Twitter. "If we don't end the day with the 12 million followers that Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama, then they have given us less than they gave Donald Trump, and that is a failure."

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EFF, Cory Doctorow Warn About the Dangers of De-Platforming and Censorship

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 10:34
Last week Cory Doctorow shared his own answer for what Apple and Google should've done about Parler: They should remove it, and tell users, "We removed Parler because we think it is a politically odious attempt to foment violence. Our judgment is subjective and may be wielded against others in future. If you don't like our judgment, you shouldn't use our app store." I'm 100% OK with that: first, because it is honest; and second, because it invites the question, "How do we switch app stores?" Doctorow warns that "vital sectors of the digital economy became as concentrated as they are due to four decades of shameful, bipartisan neglect of antitrust law." And now Slashdot reader esm88 notes that "The EFF has made a statement raising concerns over tech giants control over the internet and who gets to decide which speech is allowed" (authored by legal director Corynne McSherry, strategy director Danny O'Brien, and Jillian C. York, EFF director for international freedom of expression): Whatever you think of Parler, these decisions should give you pause. Private companies have strong legal rights under U.S. law to refuse to host or support speech they don't like. But that refusal carries different risks when a group of companies comes together to ensure that forums for speech or speakers are effectively taken offline altogether... Amazon's decision highlights core questions of our time: Who should decide what is acceptable speech, and to what degree should companies at the infrastructure layer play a role in censorship? At EFF, we think the answer is both simple and challenging: wherever possible, users should decide for themselves, and companies at the infrastructure layer should stay well out of it.... The core problem remains: regardless of whether we agree with an individual decision, these decisions overall have not and will not be made democratically and in line with the requirements of transparency and due process. Instead they are made by a handful of individuals, in a handful of companies, the most distanced and least visible to the most Internet users. Whether you agree with those decisions or not, you will not be a part of them, nor be privy to their considerations. And unless we dismantle the increasingly centralized chokepoints in our global digital infrastructure, we can anticipate an escalating political battle between political factions and nation states to seize control of their powers. On Friday Bill Ottman, founder and CEO of the right-leaning blockchain-based social network Minds (which includes a Slashdot discussion area), posted that in order to remain in the Google Play store, "We had to remove search, discovery, and comments..." We aren't happy and will be working towards something better. What is fascinating is how Signal and Telegram are navigating this and in my opinion they are still there because they are encrypted messengers without much "public" content. Obviously controversial speech is happening there too... We will be releasing a full report on our plan for fully censorship-resistant infrastructure. Ottman also advises users downloading apps from Apple's store to "leave if you're smart."

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Quixotic Californian Crusade To Officially Recognize the Hellabyte

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 08:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: In 2010, Austin Sendek, then a physics student at UC Davis, created a petition seeking recognition for prefix "hella-" as an official International System of Units (SI) measurement representing 10^27. "Northern California is home to many influential research institutions, including the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and the Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories," he argued. "However, science isn't all that sets Northern California apart from the rest of the world. The area is also the only region in the world currently practicing widespread usage of the English slang 'hella,' which typically means 'very,' or can refer to a large quantity (e.g. 'there are hella stars out tonight')." To this day, the SI describes prefixes for quantities for up to 10^24. Those with that many bytes have a yottabyte. If you only have 10^21 bytes, you have a zettabyte. There's also exabyte (10^18), petabyte (10^15), terabyte (10^12), gigabyte(10^9), and so on. Support for "hella-" would allow you to talk about hellabytes of data, he argues, pointing out that this would make the number of atoms in 12 kg of carbon-12 would be simplified from 600 yottaatoms to 0.6 hellaatoms. Similarly, the sun (mass of 2.2 hellatons) would release energy at 0.3 hellawatts, rather than 300 yottawatts. [...] The soonest [a proposal for a "hella-" SI could be officially adopted] is in November 2022, at the quadrennial meeting of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)'s General Conference on Weight and Measures, where changes to the SI usually must be agreed upon. The report notes that Google customized its search engine in 2010 to let you convert "bytes to hellabytes." A year later, Wolfram Alpha added support for "hella-" calculations. "Sendek said 'hellabyte' initially started as a joke with some college friends but became a more genuine concern as he looked into how measurements get defined and as his proposal garnered support," reports The Register. He believes it could be useful for astronomical measurements.

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FAA Approves Fully Automated Commercial Drone Flights

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 05:00
A Massachusetts company has been granted approval to operate commercial drone flights without a person directing the machine and keeping it in sight. It's the first time that the Federal Aviation Administration has allowed fully automated commercial drone flights. ABC News reports: American Robotics Inc. touted the advantage of its machines as being able to operate continuously without "expensive human labor." The Marlborough, Massachusetts, company said Friday it has tested fully automated drones for four years. CEO and co-founder Reese Mozer said there could be a $100 billion market in providing drone services to industries such as energy and agriculture, but that FAA safety requirements have restricted their use. The company said its Scout drones have technology to stay a safe distance from other aircraft. They are housed in base stations that allow for autonomous charging and to process and transmit the data they collect from aerial surveys. According to documents posted Thursday by the FAA, the drones, which fly along planned routes, will be limited to altitudes below 400 feet (122 meters) in rural areas. The FAA will allow them to have a maximum takeoff weight of 20 pounds (nine kilograms).

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Seagrass 'Neptune Balls' Sieve Millions of Plastic Particles From Water, Study Finds

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 02:00
Underwater seagrass in coastal areas appear to trap plastic pollution in natural bundles of fiber known as "Neptune balls," researchers have found. The Guardian reports: With no help from humans, the swaying plants -- anchored to shallow seabeds -- may collect nearly 900 million plastic items in the Mediterranean alone every year, a study reported in the journal Scientific Reports said. "We show that plastic debris in the seafloor can be trapped in seagrass remains, eventually leaving the marine environment through beaching," lead author Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a marine biologist at the University of Barcelona, told AFP. This clean-up "represents a continuous purge of plastic debris out of the sea," she added. To better understand the plastic bundling capabilities of seagrass, Sanchez-Vidal and her team studied a species found only in the Mediterranean sea, Posidonia oceanica. In 2018 and 2019, they counted the number of plastic particles found in seaballs that had washed up on four beaches in Mallorca, Spain, which has large seagrass meadows offshore. There was plastic debris in half of the loose seagrass leaf samples, up to 600 bits per kilogram of leaves. Only 17% of the tighter bundled seagrass fibre known as Neptune balls contained plastic, but at a much higher density -- nearly 1,500 pieces per kilogram of seaball. Using estimates of seagrass fibre production in the Mediterranean, the researchers worked up an estimate of how much plastic might be filtered in the entire basin. The oval orbs -- the shape of a rugby ball -- form from the base of leaves that have been shredded by the action of ocean currents but remain attached to stems, called rhizomes. As they are slowly buried by sedimentation, the damaged leaf sheaths form stiff fibres that intertwine into a ball, collecting plastic in the process.

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MacOS Malware Used Run-Only AppleScripts To Avoid Detection For Five Years

Fri, 01/15/2021 - 22:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: For more than five years, macOS users have been the targets of a sneaky malware operation that used a clever trick to avoid detection and hijacked the hardware resources of infected users to mine cryptocurrency behind their backs. Named OSAMiner, the malware has been distributed in the wild since at least 2015 disguised in pirated (cracked) games and software such as League of Legends and Microsoft Office for Mac, security firm SentinelOne said in a report published this week. But the cryptominer did not go entirely unnoticed. SentinelOne said that two Chinese security firms spotted and analyzed older versions of the OSAMiner in August and September 2018, respectively. But their reports only scratched the surface of what OSAMiner was capable of, SentinelOne macOS malware researcher Phil Stokes said yesterday. The primary reason was that security researchers weren't able to retrieve the malware's entire code at the time, which used nested run-only AppleScript files to retrieve its malicious code across different stages. As users installed the pirated software, the boobytrapped installers would download and run a run-only AppleScript, which would download and run a second run-only AppleScript, and then another final third run-only AppleScript. Since "run-only" AppleScript come in a compiled state where the source code isn't human-readable, this made analysis harder for security researchers.

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Facebook Uses AI To Predict If COVID-19 Patients Will Need More Care

Fri, 01/15/2021 - 21:02
Facebook is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to help doctors predict whether they will need more resources, such as extra oxygen to care for COVID-19 patients in hospitals. CNET reports: The social network said Friday it developed two AI models, one based on a single chest X-ray, and another from a series X-rays, that could help forecast if a patient infected by the coronavirus is likely to get worse. A third model predicts the amount of extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient might need. Facebook's AI models generally did a better job than a human when it came to forecasting up to four days in advance if a patient will need more intensive care resources. Partnering with with New York University Langone Health's Predictive Analytics Unit and Department of Radiology, Facebook's AI research is another example of how tech companies are trying to help the health industry battle COVID-19. [...] Facebook's models rely on a technique in which AI learns on its own rather than depending on data labelled by humans, which can be a time-consuming process. The social network and NYU are publishing their research and open sourcing the AI models.

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Amazon.com and 'Big Five' Publishers Accused of eBook Price-Fixing

Fri, 01/15/2021 - 20:25
Amazon.com and the "Big Five" publishers -- Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster -- have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices, in a class action filed by the law firm that successfully sued Apple and the Big Five on the same charge 10 years ago. The Guardian reports: The lawsuit, filed in district court in New York on Thursday by Seattle firm Hagens Berman, on behalf of consumers in several US states, names the retail giant as the sole defendant but labels the publishers "co-conspirators." It alleges Amazon and the publishers use a clause known as "Most Favored Nations" (MFN) to keep ebook prices artificially high, by agreeing to price restraints that force consumers to pay more for ebooks purchased on retail platforms that are not Amazon.com. The lawsuit claims that almost 90% of all ebooks sold in the US are sold on Amazon, in addition to over 50% of all print books. The suit alleges that ebook prices dropped in 2013 and 2014 after Apple and major publishers were successfully sued for conspiring to set ebook prices, but rose again after Amazon renegotiated their contracts in 2015. "In violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Defendant and the Big Five Co-conspirators agreed to various anti-competitive MFNs and anti-competitive provisions that functioned the same as MFNs," the complaint states. "Amazon's agreement with its Co-conspirators is an unreasonable restraint of trade that prevents competitive pricing and causes Plaintiffs and other consumers to overpay when they purchase ebooks from the Big Five through an ebook retailer that competes with Amazon. That harm persists and will not abate unless Amazon and the Big Five are stopped." The suit seeks compensation for consumers who purchased ebooks through competitors, damages and injunctive relief that would require Amazon and the publishers to "stop enforcing anti-competitive price restraints."

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Apple Plans First iMac Desktop Redesign In Nearly a Decade

Fri, 01/15/2021 - 19:45
In addition to upgraded MacBook Pros, Bloomberg reports that Apple is also "planning the first redesign of its iMac all-in-one desktop computer since 2012," as it shifts away from Intel to its own silicon. From the report: The new models will slim down the thick black borders around the screen and do away with the sizable metal chin area in favor of a design similar to Apple's Pro Display XDR monitor. These iMacs will have a flat back, moving away from the curved rear of the current iMac. Apple is planning to launch two versions -- codenamed J456 and J457 -- to replace the existing 21.5-inch and 27-inch models later this year, the people said, asking not to be identified because the products are not yet announced. The new models will use next-generation versions of Apple's Mac processors like the upcoming 2021 MacBook Pros. The iMac redesign will be one of the biggest visual updates to any Apple product this year, according to people familiar with the company's roadmap. Apple is also working on a pair of new Mac Pro desktop computers, its priciest Mac machines that don't come with a screen included, the people said. One version is a direct update to the current Mac Pro and will continue to use the same design as the version launched in 2019. Apple has discussed continuing to use Intel processors for that model rather than moving to its own chips. The second version, however, will use Apple's own processors and be less than half the size of the current Mac Pro. The design will feature a mostly aluminum exterior and could invoke nostalgia for the Power Mac G4 Cube, a short-lived smaller version of the Power Mac, an earlier iteration of the Mac Pro. Apple has also reportedly started development of a cheaper external monitor to sell alongside the Pro Display XDR. "The cheaper monitor would feature a screen geared more for consumer than professional use and wouldn't have the brightness and contrast ratio of the top-tier offering," reports Bloomberg.

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