2018-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2018-04-13 13:32:42 UTC
2018-04-14 11:41:58 UTC
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Amazon has reported that it has reached 100 million Prime subscribers worldwide:
The big numerical reveal on Wednesday was Amazon.com Inc. finally spilling the beans on the number of Prime members (more than 100 million). It also disclosed another number that shows how much it relies on an army of people moving physical merchandise around the world: $28,446.
That's the median annual compensation of Amazon employees. Amazon reported this number for the first time under a new requirement that companies disclose the gap between pay for the rank-and-file and the person in the corner office. (Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, the world's richest person, reported total compensation of $1.68 million last year. As in prior years, he didn't take a stock bonus, collected a salary of $81,840 and had $1.6 million in personal security costs that Amazon covered.)
However, there's still more work to be done for the company to reach more Americans:
But that figure only gives a surface-level view into the success and current challenges of Amazon's loyalty program — chief among them, how to keep growing in the country where Prime is the most popular and the biggest money-maker: Right here in the U.S. [...] As of August 2016, 60 percent of U.S. households with income of at least $150,000 had Prime memberships, according to research from Cowen and Company. Compare that with around 40 percent of households that made between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, and just 30 percent of those who earned less than $25,000.
[...] In 2017, Amazon unveiled Amazon Cash, a way for shoppers who don't have credit or debit cards to load money into their Amazon accounts by handing over cash at partnering retail stores. In the process, one roadblock to shopping on Amazon for those without bank accounts was lowered.
Two months later, Amazon introduced a 45 percent discount to the Amazon Prime monthly fee for those shoppers who receive certain forms of government assistance; the service cost them just $5.99 a month. And just this March, Amazon added Medicaid recipients to the group eligible for that discount.
The 2018 World Finals of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) culminated today at Peking University in Beijing, China. Three students from Moscow State University earned the title of 2018 World Champions. Teams from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Peking University and The University of Tokyo placed in second, third and fourth places and were recognized with gold medals in the prestigious competition.
ACM ICPC is the premier global programming competition conducted by and for the world's universities. The global competition is conceived, operated and shepherded by ACM, sponsored by IBM, and headquartered at Baylor University. For more than four decades, the competition has raised the aspirations and performance of generations of the world's problem solvers in computing sciences and engineering.
In the competition, teams of three students tackle eight or more complex, real-world problems. The students are given a problem statement, and must create a solution within a looming five-hour time limit. The team that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner. This year's World Finals saw 140 teams competing. Now in its 42nd year, ICPC has gathered more than 320,000 students from around the world to compete since its inception.
[...] For full results, to learn more about the ICPC, view historic competition results, or investigate sample problems, please visit https://icpc.baylor.edu.
NOTE: All links to the ICPC site presented here are reduced from what appear to be tracking URLs present in the source article.
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.
The team's results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications.
[...] For many researchers, graphene is ideal for use in filtration membranes. A single sheet of graphene resembles atomically thin chicken wire and is composed of carbon atoms joined in a pattern that makes the material extremely tough and impervious to even the smallest atom, helium.
Researchers, including Karnik's group, have developed techniques to fabricate graphene membranes and precisely riddle them with tiny holes, or nanopores, the size of which can be tailored to filter out specific molecules. For the most part, scientists synthesize graphene through a process called chemical vapor deposition, in which they first heat a sample of copper foil and then deposit onto it a combination of carbon and other gases.
Graphene-based membranes have mostly been made in small batches in the laboratory, where researchers can carefully control the material's growth conditions. However, Hart and his colleagues believe that if graphene membranes are ever to be used commercially they will have to be produced in large quantities, at high rates, and with reliable performance.
[...] The researchers set out to build an end-to-end, start-to-finish manufacturing process to make membrane-quality graphene.
The team's setup combines a roll-to-roll approach — a common industrial approach for continuous processing of thin foils — with the common graphene-fabrication technique of chemical vapor deposition, to manufacture high-quality graphene in large quantities and at a high rate.
Cryptographic currencies are an ongoing source of comedy gold rather than actual gold. Values wildly fluctuate. After being repeatedly asked about crypto currencies, I investigated in more detail. I was aware of leading currencies, such as BitCoin, Ethereum, Monero, ZCash and, after a ridiculous conversation at my local makerspace, pornographic currencies, such as WankCoin, TitCoin, TittyCoin, AssCoin and ArseCoin. Of these, TitCoin is the most viable. Why? Young women, colloquially known as cam-whores, install applications and get paid TitCoin in exchange for showing their breasts or more explicit acts. Surely TitCoins are worthless? No, cam-whores exchange TitCoin for BitCoin which can be used to obtains drugs, designer clothing or high value gadgets via illicit channels and/or major retailers.
That explains why people sell TitCoin but who buys it? The ownership of many cryptographic currencies are skewed towards early adoptors. Most famously, a pizza was exchanged for 10000 BitCoin. In Dec 2017, the same currency had a market value exceeding US$200 million. Indeed, the mysterious Satoshi Nakomoto, who released a working BitCoin implementation in Jan 2009, should be listed as one of the world's richest people. Such people want to diversify out of major cryptographic currencies into minor alternatives - even ones such as DogeCoin which started as a variant of a LOLCat joke and now has a market capitalization exceeding US$50 million. People who quite obviously haven't done any due diligence are also buying a broad spread of currencies.
Many people speculate about the identity of Satoshi Nakomoto. Some speculate that he is a Brit with yellow fever who works late. Others speculate that he is a time traveller from the future and this is more plausible than some theories. I thought there was an unlikely possibility that he was one of the regular customers from my time working in an Internet café. During this period, said customer described to me a "picket fence" data-structure where each block signs the last and a grid of computers sign each other's blocks. Said customer appears to alive, well and living a perpetual holiday on a tropical island. Reading the original paper from Satoshi Nakomoto neither confirmed nor refuted my suspicion but it does much to resolve hand-waving descriptions from journalists who don't understand anything or people who willfully mis-understand because they have something to sell.
Remember all of the fun we had with file sharing? BitTorrent and its many derivatives are able to transport large quantities of data with fidelity due to integrity checks provided by tiger trees or Merkle trees where each branch has two children. This binary tree allows a BitTorrent peer to rapidly discard blocks of data with checksum failures. BitCoin and its many derivatives gain integrity from a Merkle chain where each branch (usually) has one (persistent) child. If multiple blocks have a valid checksum, there is a strict preference for the block which advances the most transactions.
At this point, I had enough understanding to look for weaknesses, such as deliberately processing small blocks of data to get ahead of parties with more resources. This doesn't work. I also considered weaknesses in the cryptography. BitCoin's Merkle chain uses two rounds of SHA256. This was considered bad practice when released and I was specifically told this by the picket fence guy. However, after Edward Snowden confirmed that SHA was deliberately weakened by the NSA, it appears that BitCoin may have been structured with inside knowledge (or the fore-knowledge of a time traveler). The integrity of the first "genesis" block is also predicated on no inside knowledge and no tricksiness with hashes. For all evaluated schemes, the block hashing and public key wallets are vulnerable to quantum attack. Schemes with zero-knowledge proofs offer no additional protection.
People have been preoccupied by the details of various financial schemes and I am reminded of the Douglas Adams quotation "This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy." Despite this, I thought that the major attack surface was the cryptography - until I looked at the code. I forgot that BitCoin had forked repeatedly but the original paper has a reference to what is now "BitCoin Classic". Code for this is run from a GitHub repository which runs on a continuous development cycle with no tagged branches or releases - or any more professionalism than the toy projects which I post on SoylentNews. After downloading a 7MB PKZip and looking at the contents, my initial response was "Oh, holy crap! I'd rather run systemd!" It requires the Boost C++ financial library. Unfortunately, that's the good part. By volume, the majority of the code is C++ templates to implement a custom peer-to-peer protocol. That would be the magic part of Magic Internet Money and it appears to have less due diligence than the average SSL library. The protocol may have multiple buffer overflows. I considered this and I concluded that a worthwhile attack would be to re-write wallet addresses so that nodes in a network profit the attacker rather than their owner. I mentioned this at my local makerspace and I was told this couldn't be possible. Within two weeks, SoylentNews reported an ASIC mining implementation which was vulnerable to this attack. With limits, it is also possible to get a node to mine the attacker's choice of currency.
Even if a reference implementation is clean and compiled with a clean, bug-free compiler, derivative implementations may be tweaked for throughput and have any type of critical bug. There is also the matter of Turing complete scripting for cryptographic currencies. Some people consider this a feature because it allows "smart contract" state machines. However, implementation has been quite lacking. Ethereum gets most of the attention in this matter. For example, a bad method invocation cost speculators US$36 million. However, BitCoin implementations also have some of this functionality. Specifically, BitCoin contains a virtual machine with two stacks. Ordinarily, I strong advocate the use of virtual machines with two (or more) stacks but not without back-checks, on flaky x86 servers, which are readily hacked, via a protocol implemented outside of the virtual machine, known to have critical bugs.
Cryptographic currencies have other problems. Key management remains a cryptographic problem and it is fairly guaranteed that keys from the top 10 wallet management applications are snooped and stored by various governments. As an example, the US Government had no difficulty when recovering funds from the SilkRoad trading system. There is also the matter of Byzantine General Problem. Although it is demonstrably solved when the number of nodes is relatively constant, it does not cover the case a net split. So, when China, Iran, Turkey or the Fourth Reich Of North America disconnects from the Internet, buy TitCoin, spend it lavishly and enjoy yourself. When the connection is restored and the block chains reconcile, the Magic Internet Money may find its way back to you. At this point, go and invest in something which is only moderately insane, like pork belly futures.
The current state of digital money shows promise but it also shows that so much more can be achieved. The perfect currency is:
Historically, the full set of attributes was considered to be an absurd contradiction. In a mythical world where bugs get fixed before features get written, we can have a digital currency which has all of this and more. However, there are some baseline attributes which have been implicit in physical artifacts and now need to stated explicitly. In the manner that database consistency has four criteria and object oriented programming has four criteria, digital currency also requires four criteria:
Under current power structures, a full or partial solution is a very bad idea. The type of person who is most able to understand and develop digital money is more likely than average to fall afoul of such a system. This year, you may profit from digital currency. Next year, you may not be able to feed yourself or shelter yourself without a government approved, government authorized mark. Digital money isn't going to disappear but liberty is at risk if we don't develop a system which meets the four criteria of traditional money and the four criteria of digital money.
Vox presents an article about restaurant noise levels and why they've risen over the years.
When the Line Hotel opened in Washington, DC, last December, the cocktail bars, gourmet coffee shops, and restaurants that fill its cavernous lobby drew a lot of buzz. Housed in a century-old church, the space was also reputedly beautiful.
My first visit in February confirmed that the Line was indeed as sleek as my friends and restaurant critics had suggested. There was just one problem: I wanted to leave almost as soon as I walked in. My ears were invaded by a deafening din.
[...] In reckoning with this underappreciated health threat, I’ve been wondering how we got here and why any well-meaning restaurateur would inflict this pain on his or her patrons and staff. I learned that there are a number of reasons — and they mostly have to do with restaurant design trends. In exposing them, I hope restaurateurs will take note: You may be deafening your staff and patrons.
Cray is adding an AMD processor option to its CS500 line of clustered supercomputers.
The CS500 supports more than 11,000 nodes which can use Intel Xeon SP CPUs, optionally accelerated by Nvidia Tesla GPUs or Intel Phi co-processors. Intel Stratix FPGA acceleration is also supported.
There can be up to 72 nodes in a rack, interconnected by EDR/FDR InfiniBand or Intel's OmniPath fabric.
Cray has now added an AMD Epyc 7000 option to the CPU mix:
- Systems provide four dual-socket nodes in a 2U chassis
- Each node supports two PCIe 3.0 x 16 slots (200Gb network capability) and HDD/SSD options
- Epyc 7000 processors support up to 32 cores and eight DDR4 memory channels per socket
Top-of-the-line Epyc chips have 32 cores and 64 threads. An upcoming generation of 7nm Epyc chips is rumored to have up to 48 or 64 cores, using 6 or 8 cores per Core Complex (CCX) instead of the current 4.
As part of Google's focus on supporting digital literacy and STEM advocacy, the company has launched Maharat min Google ("Building Capabilities with Google"). This program is aimed at helping women and young people in the Arabic-speaking world "get ready for future job opportunities, advance their careers, or grow their businesses." The examples Google cites are training for social media, video, online marketing and e-commerce.
[...] It will consist of free courses, tools and in-person training to job seekers, educators, students and businesses. The organization is also partnering with INJAZ Al-Arab, with a $1 million grant to help the non-profit continue its work in helping students (especially women) with hands-on training for digital skills. What's more, Google is working with the MiSK foundation to provide training for 100,000 people in Saudi Arabia (50,000 of which will be women).
The Brown Institute for Brain Science in Rhode Island is getting a $100 million donation, and a name change:
A Brown alum has donated $100 million to advance brain science and help find cures for ALS and Alzheimer's diseases.
The gift is from Robert J. Carney and his wife, Nancy D. Carney. He is a 1961 Brown graduate and a long-serving university trustee. The gift will change the name of the Brown Institute for Brain Science to the Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science.
Also at The Boston Globe.
Unexpected News that nobody could have foreseen.
Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month – and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25–58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland's social-security institution.
Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive €560, or $690, per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money.
While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction.
and . . .
Entrepreneurs who have expressed support for UBI include Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, and Google's futurist and engineering director Ray Kurzweil.
These tech moguls recognize that UBI, as well as [combating] poverty, could also help solve the problem of increased robotization in the workforce, a problem they are very much part of creating.
and . . .
The existing unemployment benefits were so high, the Finnish government argued, and the system so rigid, an unemployed person might choose not to take a job as they would risk losing money by doing so – the higher your earnings, the lower your social benefits. The basic income was meant as an incentive for people to start working.
This article gives me serious doubts about whether a program like this can work and whether other countries will try it.
Four of AMD's second-generation Ryzen CPUs have been released. These are "12nm Zen+" chips with minor changes, rather than the more significant third-generation "7nm Zen 2" chips coming later.
The CPUs are the 8-core Ryzen 7 2700X ($329) and Ryzen 7 2700 ($299), and the 6-core Ryzen 5 2600X ($229) and Ryzen 5 2600 ($199). All four come with a bundled cooler, 2 threads per core, and support DDR4-2933 memory, up from DDR4-2666.
The Ryzen 7 2700X takes over the top spot from the Ryzen 7 1800X, and for an extra 10 W in TDP will provide a base frequency of 3.7 GHz and a turbo frequency of 4.3 GHz on its eight cores, with simultaneous multi-threading. This is an extra +100 MHz and +300 MHz respectively, going above the average limits of the 1800X when overclocked.
The 2700X also reduces the top cost for the best AM4 Ryzen processor: when launched, the 1800X was set at $499, without a bundled cooler, and was recently dropped to $349 as a price-competitor to Intel's most powerful mainstream processor. The 2700X undercuts both, by being listed at a suggested e-tail price of $329, and is bundled with the best stock cooler in the business: AMD's Wraith Prism RGB. AMD is attempting to hit all the targets: aggressive pricing, top performance, and best value, all in one go.
IPC is improved about 3% due to cache latency improvements, clock speeds are up about 6% (die sizes and transistor counts are similar to the previous generation, but more unused silicon is used as a thermal buffer), and Precision Boost 2 / XFR 2 is used, for a total of about 10% better performance.
Submitted via IRC for SoyCow8317
A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged."
Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company."
[...] Calls appeared to come from local numbers, but those who answered were prompted to "Press 1" to hear about vacation deals, according to the FCC. If they did, consumers were connected to call centers not affiliated with companies mentioned in messages, such as Expedia Inc., TripAdvisor Inc., Marriott International Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., according to the agency. In actuality, the call centers were associated with Mexican timeshare facilities, the FCC said in a notice.
In a new paper, Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adam Frank from the University of Rochester ask a provocative question [open, DOI: 10.1017/S1473550418000095] [DX]: Could there have been an industrial civilization on Earth millions of years ago? And if so, what evidence of it would we be able to find today?
The authors first considered what signs of industrial civilization would be expected to survive in the geological record. In our own time, these include plastics, synthetic pollutants, increased metal concentrations, and evidence of large-scale energy use, such as carbon-based fossil fuels. Taken together, they mark what some scientists call the Anthropocene era, in which humans are having a significant and measurable impact on our planet.
The authors conclude, however, that it would be very difficult after tens of millions of years to distinguish these industrial byproducts from the natural background. Even plastic, which was previously thought to be quite resistant, can be degraded by enzymes relatively quickly. Only radiation from nuclear power plants—or from a nuclear war—would be discernible in the geological rock record after such a long time.
Anonymous Coward says "I told you so!" and starts babbling about megaliths.
Intel will shut down its New Devices Group, spelling an end to the company's Vaunt smartglasses project:
When Intel showed off its Vaunt smart glasses (aka "Superlight" internally) back in February, we had high hopes for a new wave of wearable tech that wouldn't turn us into Borgs. Alas, according to The Information's source, word has it that the chip maker is closing the group responsible for wearable devices which, sadly, included the Vaunt. This was later confirmed by Intel in a statement, which hinted at a lack of investment due to "market dynamics." Indeed, Bloomberg had earlier reported that Intel was looking to sell a majority stake in this division, which had about 200 employees and was valued at $350 million.
To avoid the awkwardness that doomed the Google Glass, Intel took the subtle approach by cramming a retinal laser projector -- along with all the other electronic bits, somehow -- into the Vaunt's ordinary-looking spectacle frame; plus there was no camera on it. The low-power projector would beam a red, monochrome 400 x 150 pixel image into the lower right corner of one's visual field, thus eliminating the need of a protruding display medium.
Vaunt is what you get when your committee is too scared of the "Glasshole" fiasco to make a useful product. People on camera could easily identify Google Glass because of its protruding head-mounted display and hardware, as well as the camera indicator light. Build the SoC and any flat buttons directly into a black frame, put small camera lenses at the hinges and/or center, use retinal laser projection or make the lenses into full field of view displays, and remove the indicator light. Then the wearer doesn't have a "Glasshole" problem (but those being viewed might still end up with a "Glasshole.")
Previously: Intel Unveils "Vaunt" Smartglasses
There is a browser add-on which summarizes terms of service warnings for web sites requiring an all-or-nothing click-through to use their services. The add-on tosdr uses crowd-sourcing to digest scores of pages into short, concise sentences or paragraphs warning what is hidden behind excessively verbose legalese. The database has been around for years but has recently been converted into a wiki.
What if, before you consented, you could at least read the SparkNotes? That's the goal of ToSDR—short for Terms of Service; Didn't Read—a website that turns lengthy terms of service agreements into bulleted summaries, and then rates those terms from Class A (very good) to Class F (very bad). It functions as a sort of Wikipedia for terms of service agreements. Anyone can submit a bullet point and share their analysis of a service's terms, which get turned into a rating of a site's overall policy. The site, which has existed since 2012 but is relaunching next month on a new platform, hopes to create a broad network of shared knowledge.
Unlike written contracts where it is easy to cross out offending paragraphs and clauses before both parties sign, these online forms are all-or-nothing. In some of the sites with larger network effects, such as Facebook, it might be that such a forced agreement could be construed as extortion.
Wired: Welcome to the Wikipedia for Terms of Service Agreements
Boing Boing: Terms of Service; Didn't Read: a browser add-on that warns you about the terrible fine-print you're about to "agree" to
Gene therapy is showing promise for treating one of the most common genetic disorders. Results of a study published Wednesday show that 15 of 22 patients with beta-thalassemia who got gene therapy were able to stop or sharply reduce the regular blood transfusions they had needed to alleviate their life-threatening anemia. There were no serious side effects.
[...] The researchers stress, however, that more research is needed to fully evaluate how well the treatment works and how safe it is. Still, the company that's developing the treatment, Bluebird Bio of Cambridge, Mass., plans to seek approval of the treatment in Europe by the end of the year, a spokeswoman said in an email.
An estimated 288,000 people have beta-thalassemia worldwide, which makes the disease one of the most common genetic disorders. It's found most often in Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, Asia, India, and parts of Africa and South America. In the United States, about 10,000 to 15,000 patients have beta-thalassemia.
Also at BBC.
Gene Therapy in Patients with Transfusion-Dependent β-Thalassemia (DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1705342) (DX)