Covers the period:
2017-01-01 .. 2017-03-21
(SPIDs: [586..626]) --martyb
We always have a place for talented people, visit the Get Involved section on the wiki to see how you can make SoylentNews better.
Razer is a company that makes laptops and computer peripherals such as keyboards, mice, etc. The CEO announced on Monday that two Project Valerie laptop prototypes were stolen from their booth at the Consumer Electronics Show:
In a Facebook post early Monday, Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan said he'd "just been informed that two of our prototypes were stolen from our booth at CES today."
"We treat theft/larceny, and if relevant to this case, industrial espionage, very seriously — it is cheating, and cheating doesn't sit well with us," Tan wrote, possibly suggesting a competitor stole the machines. "Penalties for such crimes are grievous and anyone who would do this clearly isn't very smart." Tan added that Razer has filed "the necessary reports" and is now working with CES management and law enforcement to catch whoever stole the prototypes. He encouraged anyone with information about the theft to reach out to Razer's legal team.
Also at Computerworld.
tomsHARDWARE has some updated info:
The theft occurred during what was likely a chaotic teardown of Razer's suite on the Las Vegas Convention show floor. Note that there's a $25,000 reward for information leading to the guilty party, good for a year from today.
Sustained stress erodes memory, and the immune system plays a key role in the cognitive impairment, according to a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University.
[...] "This is chronic stress. It's not just the stress of giving a talk or meeting someone new," said lead researcher Jonathan Godbout, associate professor of neuroscience at Ohio State.
This is the first study of its kind to establish the relationship between short-term memory and prolonged stress. In the case of the mice, that meant repeat visits from a larger, nasty intruder mouse.
Mice that were repeatedly exposed to the aggressive intruder had a hard time recalling where the escape hole was in a maze they'd mastered prior to the stressful period.
-- submitted from IRC
The "Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance" unanimously passed out of Oakland's Privacy Advisory Commission on Thursday night, formally moving it to the Oakland City Council. Passage of the ordinance was roundly applauded by local civil liberties advocates and legal scholars, some of whom spoke at the meeting.
"You are ahead of most of your peers across the country, and you are paving the way for them," Nuala O'Connor, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group based in Washington, DC, told the assembled commission. (O'Connor was also the first chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security.)
The draft ordinance may still be subject to minor changes before being adopted by the city council, particularly as to how it will be enforced.
[...] For years, American cities have often accepted federal, state, or regional grant money to obtain various surveillance equipment for their local law enforcement agencies. Lawmakers often don't ask questions as to how and in what circumstances such gear will be used, neither do they typically evaluate after the fact whether those tools have been actually effective in reducing crime.
As specifically defined under the proposed law, such a report must contain a slew of information, including:
a) A description of how the surveillance technology was used, including the quantity of data gathered or analyzed by the technology;
b) Whether and how often data acquired through the use of the surveillance technology was shared with outside entities, the name of any recipient entity, the type(s) of data disclosed, under what legal standard(s) the information was disclosed, and the justification for the disclosure(s);
c) Where applicable, a breakdown of what physical objects the surveillance technology software was installed upon; for surveillance technology software, a breakdown of what data sources the surveillance technology was applied to;
d) Where applicable, a breakdown of where the surveillance technology was deployed geographically, by individual census tract as defined in the relevant year by the United States Census Bureau;
-- submitted from IRC
[Here's] the thing about these minivans. Waymo says that for the first time, its producing all the technology that enables its cars to completely drive themselves in-house. That means for the first time, the Google spin-off is building all its own cameras, sensors, and mapping technology, rather than purchasing parts off the shelf as it had done in the past. This allows the company to exert more control over its self-driving hardware, as well as bring the cost down to ridiculously cheap levels. In a speech in Detroit, Waymo CEO Jeff Krafcik said that by building its own LIDAR sensors, for example, the company was shaving 90 percent off its costs. That means sensors that Google purchased for $75,000 back in 2009 now only cost $7,500 for Waymo to build itself.
Bloomberg reports that Google/Alphabet/Waymo's cars are getting better at driving themselves, with fewer "disengagements":
Vehicles tested in California by Waymo, the autonomous car company owned Google parent Alphabet Inc., had a much lower rate of "disengagements" last year, compared with 2015. Disengagements happen when a human tester needs to take control of a self-driving car, either to avoid an accident or respond to technical problems.
Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik shared the data during a speech on Sunday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. California requires companies with permits to test autonomous vehicles to disclose the metric. The figure is one measure of the effectiveness of the nascent technology in the real world. In 2015, Alphabet reported 341 disengagements during 424,331 autonomous miles driven in California. That was 0.8 disengagements per thousand miles. In 2016, the rate improved to 0.2, according to Krafcik.
"As our software and hardware becomes more robust through our testing, we're driving this number down further," he said during a keynote address in Detroit. Krafcik also highlighted advances in Waymo's sensor technology.
Also at Reuters.
Beijing will soon have pollution police:
Officials in Beijing are taking steps toward tackling the city's long-standing smog problem with the creation of an environmental police force, according to state media. Spearheaded by Beijing's acting mayor Mayor Cai Qi, the political crackdown on burning fossil fuels comes amid a flurry of concern over the country's choking air pollution.
[...] The new environmental police would among other things, crack down on open-air barbecues, garbage incineration and biomass burning — areas previously overlooked by authorities, Xinhua reported. "Open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, dust from roads -- these acts of non-compliance with regulations are actually the result of lax supervision and weak law enforcement," Cai said. He did not say when the program would begin.
BBC reports "German Greens float sex prescriptions for disabled":
A spokeswoman for the Green Party in Germany has said disabled and seriously ill people should be able to claim back public money if they pay for sex. They would have to prove a medical need and show that they could not pay to visit sex workers otherwise. Elisabeth Scharfenberg, an MP, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that she "could imagine" local authorities paying for "sexual assistance". Prostitution has been legal in Germany since 2002.
[...] In the Netherlands it is already possible to claim the cost of sexual services as a medical expense.
Every time you upload a photo to Facebook, its deep-learning algorithms go to work, trying to ID things both incredibly specific (which of your friends is in this photo?) and general (is this photo outdoors or indoors?). But that information is largely hidden from users — until now.
Software engineer Adam Geitgey put together the snappily named Chrome extension "Show Facebook Computer Vision Tags," which allows anyone to see what general information Facebook extracts from every photo that's been uploaded. Install the extension and head over to Facebook, and you can start immediately seeing which objects Facebook can ID within pretty much any photo.
An app allowing users to locate their lost AirPod wireless earbuds has been removed from Apple's app store without explanation:
Mobile app developer studio Deucks Pty released the app, called "Finder for Airpods," last week. The app used the iPhone to track the Bluetooth wireless signal emitted by the two AirPod units to help locate the lost piece, displaying a line showing whether the user was getting closer or farther away based on signal strength. Excitement about Apple's new wireless earphones has almost been matched by anxiety about how easy it could be to lose one of the two unconnected mini speakers. So there was an initial burst of enthusiasm about the new app, which quickly garnered a rating of four and a half stars.
But on Monday, the app had vanished from the Apple App Store—and developer Raajit Sharm at Deucks Pty says it's not coming back. "Apple determined the 'concept' of people finding their AirPods with the app was deemed 'not appropriate for the App Store,'" Sharm wrote in an email to Fortune. "The app will not return back."
A new pair of AirPods costs $159 and a single replacement costs just $69.
Also at The Verge.
For years, patent trolls have been the best evidence that pure evil exists. And like most evil entities, they are almost impossible to stop. Even a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was highly critical of patent trolls has done little to slow their slimy, reptilian-like existence. But a federal judge on Dec. 19 crafted a novel tactic to curb patent trolls when she slapped a half-million-dollar bill on the lawyers and said that they were personally responsible for paying it, not their client. This could truly be a game-changer.
This unusual decision could make lawyers hesitate to take patent trolls as clients. Part of the patent-troll economic model is based on lawyers taking a contingency fee, meaning that they take a percentage of whatever money is extracted from victims rather than being paid an hourly fee. This makes the lawyers more of a partner than a traditional contractor, which factored into the judge's decision.
The ruling may make lawyers say forget about contingency fees; we want upfront hourly fees. And patent trolls, unwilling or unable to do that, may forgo pursuing the most tenuous lawsuits. As a result, the patent-troll business model starts to crumble.
[...] Patent trolls directly threaten the industry of ideas. They dilute the value of legitimate patents while making honorable companies suspicious of legitimate patent complaints. This was never what patents were all about. They were designed to protect inventors who came up with truly innovative ways of doing things.
Patents need to get back to protecting inventors, not opportunists who conclude that what business needs today is more extortion. [Judge] Cote's decision won't finish off patent trolls, but it's a step in the right direction.
Though tomatillos look a bit like tomatoes, they taste nothing like them. Also known as "ground cherries," these fruits are part of the diverse nightshade family, which includes everything from peppers and tobacco to tomatoes. Even so, scientists are largely still in the dark about their evolutionary origins.
The plants are fairly fragile, making it rare for them to fossilize. But while excavating a site in Argentina, a group of scientists from Pennsylvania State University struck botanic jackpot recently, uncovering a pair of fossil tomatillos [DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2737] [DX]—complete with their papery husks and the remains of their fleshy interiors. This find not only sheds new light on the tart but sweet fruit, but also suggest that they are much older than researchers once thought.
[...] For years, researchers have tried to fill in the gaps using genetic analysis to try to estimate how early the nightshade family branched off. But these 52 million-year-old fossils are much, much older than scientists once thought based on genetic analysis, as Charles Davis, director of the Harvard University Herbaria tells Smithsonian.com. "The ages for the nightshades was on the order of about 30 million years, and the tomatillo group is only about nine million years based on recent age estimates," Davis says. "Here you have a fossil now within this tomatillo group that's five times as old as what we thought."
Also at Penn State.
DARPA's Tactical Undersea Network Architecture (TUNA) program recently completed its initial phase, successfully developing concepts and technologies aimed at restoring connectivity for U.S. forces when traditional tactical networks are knocked offline or otherwise unavailable. The program now enters the next phase, which calls for the demonstration of a prototype of the system at sea.
TUNA seeks to develop and demonstrate novel, optical-fiber-based technology options and designs to temporarily restore radio frequency (RF) tactical data networks in a contested environment via an undersea optical fiber backbone. The concept involves deploying RF network node buoys—dropped from aircraft or ships, for example—that would be connected via thin underwater fiber-optic cables. The very-small-diameter fiber-optic cables being developed are designed to last 30 days in the rough ocean environment—long enough to provide essential connectivity until primary methods of communications are restored.
"Phase 1 of the program included successful modeling, simulation, and at-sea tests of unique fiber-cable and buoy-component technologies needed to make such an undersea architecture work," said John Kamp, program manager in DARPA's Strategic Technology Office. "Teams were able to design strong, hair-thin, buoyant fiber-optic cables able to withstand the pressure, saltwater, and currents of the ocean, as well as develop novel power generation concepts."
A Volkswagen executive has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government just days ahead of a likely settlement between Volkswagen and the Justice Department:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Volkswagen executive who faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two people with knowledge of the arrest said on Sunday, marking an escalation of the criminal investigation into the automaker's diesel emissions cheating scandal. Oliver Schmidt, who led Volkswagen's regulatory compliance office in the United States from 2014 to March 2015, was arrested on Saturday by investigators in Florida and is expected to be arraigned on Monday in Detroit, said the two people, a law enforcement official and someone familiar with the case.
After a study by West Virginia University first raised questions over Volkswagen's diesel motors in early 2014, Mr. Schmidt played a central role in trying to convince regulators that excess emissions were caused by technical problems rather than by deliberate cheating. Much of the data presented to regulators was fabricated, officials of the California Air Resources Board have said. Mr. Schmidt continued to represent Volkswagen after the company admitted in September that cars were programmed to dupe regulators. He appeared before a committee of the British Parliament in January, telling legislators that Volkswagen's behavior was not illegal in Europe.
The supermassive black holes are getting closer:
Monster black holes sometimes lurk behind gas and dust, hiding from the gaze of most telescopes. But they give themselves away when material they feed on emits high-energy X-rays that NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission can detect. That's how NuSTAR recently identified two gas-enshrouded supermassive black holes, located at the centers of nearby galaxies. "These black holes are relatively close to the Milky Way, but they have remained hidden from us until now," said Ady Annuar, a graduate student at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Grapevine, Texas. "They're like monsters hiding under your bed."
Both of these black holes are the central engines of what astronomers call "active galactic nuclei," a class of extremely bright objects that includes quasars and blazars. Depending on how these galactic nuclei are oriented and what sort of material surrounds them, they appear very different when examined with telescopes.
[...] Boorman led the study of an active galaxy called IC 3639, which is 170 million light years away. Researchers analyzed NuSTAR data from this object and compared them with previous observations from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Japan-led Suzaku satellite. The findings from NuSTAR, which is more sensitive to higher energy X-rays than these observatories, confirm the nature of IC 3639 as an active galactic nucleus. NuSTAR also provided the first precise measurement of how much material is obscuring the central engine of IC 3639, allowing researchers to determine how luminous this hidden monster really is. More surprising is the spiral galaxy that Annuar focused on: NGC 1448. The black hole in its center was only discovered in 2009, even though it is at the center of one of the nearest large galaxies to our Milky Way. By "near," astronomers mean NGC 1448 is only 38 million light years away (one light year is about 6 trillion miles).
Michael Hiltzik, a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, has some harsh words about UCSF's plan to outsource 20% of its IT staffing to the Indian outsourcing firm HCL Technologies:
Using a visa loophole to fire well-paid U.S. information technology workers and replace them with low-paid immigrants from India is despicable enough when it's done by profit-making companies such as Southern California Edison and Walt Disney Co.
But the latest employer to try this stunt sets a new mark in what might be termed "job laundering." It's the University of California. Experts in the abuse of so-called H-1B visas say UC is the first public university to send the jobs of American IT staff offshore. That's not a distinction UC should wear proudly.
UC San Francisco, the system's biggest medical center, announced in July that it would lay off 49 career IT staffers and eliminate 48 other IT jobs that were vacant or filled by contract employees. The workers are to be gone as of Feb. 28. In the meantime they've been ordered to train their own replacements, who are employees of the Indian outsourcing firm HCL Technologies.
[...] "The argument for Disney or Edison is that its executives are driven to maximize profits," says Ron Hira of Howard University, a expert in H-1B visas. "But UC is a public institution, not driven by profit. It's qualitatively different from other employers."
By sending IT jobs abroad, UC is undermining its own mission, which includes preparing California students to serve the high-tech industry.
"UC is training software engineers at the same time they're outsourcing their own software engineers," says Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley. "What message are they sending their own students?"
[...] Of course, if UCSF's initiative blows up in its face, the victims will be its patients, doctors and researchers. In running a university hospital, Laret told me, "you have to make some hard choices." That's indisputable, but the unanswered question is whether UCSF's choice will cost more than it saves.
NASA has selected two new missions to explore asteroids. One mission will visit several Jupiter trojans, while the other will visit 16 Psyche, the most massive metallic M-type asteroid and the eleventh most massive asteroid known:
NASA has selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun. The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively.
[...] Lucy, a robotic spacecraft, is scheduled to launch in October 2021. It's slated to arrive at its first destination, a main belt asteroid, in 2025. From 2027 to 2033, Lucy will explore six Jupiter Trojan asteroids. These asteroids are trapped by Jupiter's gravity in two swarms that share the planet's orbit, one leading and one trailing Jupiter in its 12-year circuit around the sun. The Trojans are thought to be relics of a much earlier era in the history of the solar system, and may have formed far beyond Jupiter's current orbit.
[...] The Psyche mission will explore one of the most intriguing targets in the main asteroid belt – a giant metal asteroid, known as 16 Psyche, about three times farther away from the sun than is the Earth. This asteroid measures about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in diameter and, unlike most other asteroids that are rocky or icy bodies, is thought to be comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel, similar to Earth's core. Scientists wonder whether Psyche could be an exposed core of an early planet that could have been as large as Mars, but which lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
The budgets for Discovery Program class missions are capped at $450 million.