Technology

The Astronomer Who Is Building the Largest Map of Space by Volume (vice.com) 8

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: Astronomer Mark Halpern doesn't come into work every day thinking about the fact that he is leading a team that is creating the biggest map of the universe by volume ever made. But that ambition drives his research. An professor at the University of British Columbia, Halpern is also the principal investigator of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME for short, based at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, BC. The experiment is a collaboration between UBC, the University of Toronto, McGill, and the National Research Council of Canada. Its centerpiece is a massive halfpipe-shaped telescope that collects radio signals to detect hydrogen intensity, which is a measure of how much hydrogen is clustered in the universe, and if it has moved or spread out. The researchers can then analyse the spread of hydrogen in the universe to determine how much -- and how quickly -- the universe is expanding. "If I make a sound somewhere, it travels away from that sound in a spherical shell," Halpern said. "So we're going to map these big spherical shells as a function of distance from us, and by comparing their present speed to how big they look, that comparison tells us the expansion history of the universe."


Patents

Bank of America Tops IBM, Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents (bloomberg.com) 29

Bank of America may not be willing to help customers invest in Bitcoin, but that doesn't mean it isn't plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency. From a report: The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that's at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property. "Based on what's publicly out there, the technology sector hasn't embraced blockchain as much as the financial-services industry," Maulin Shah, managing attorney for EnvisionIP, said in an interview. International Business Machines Corp., which has targeted blockchain and artificial intelligence for future growth, tied with Mastercard Inc. for second on the list, with 27 each.
Transportation

Uber Says UK Drivers Will Take Mandatory Breaks (cnet.com) 23

Uber is introducing a new policy on drivers' hours across the UK next week, which it says will help to increase safety for drivers and passengers. From a report: Drivers for the ride-hailing service will have to take a continuous six-hour break after the time spent on trips with passengers and on their way to pickups reaches 10 hours. The company announced the decision Tuesday, saying it believes this move is an industry first in the UK. The company has been criticized in the past over its handling of workers' rights and has faced resistance in the UK. Uber lost its license to operate in London in September. In October, a London court ruled that its drivers should be classified as employees instead of as contractors
AT&T

US Lawmakers Urge AT&T To Cut Commercial Ties With Huawei and Oppose China Mobile Citing National Security Concerns (reuters.com) 50

U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. From the report: The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters. The U.S. government has also blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns, including Ant Financial's proposed purchase of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International.
Google

Google Starts Certificate Program To Fill Empty IT Jobs (axios.com) 152

An anonymous reader shares a report: There are 150,000 open IT jobs in the U.S., and Google wants to make it easier to fill them. Today the company is announcing a certificate program on the Coursera platform to help give people with no prior IT experience the basic skills they need to get an entry-level IT support job in 8 to 12 months. Why it matters: Entry-level IT jobs are are typically higher-paying than similar roles in other fields. But they're harder to fill because, while IT support roles don't require a college degree, they do require prior experience. The median annual wage for a computer network support specialist was $62,670 in May 2016 The median annual wage for a computer user support specialist was $52,160 in May 2016. The impetus: Natalie Van Kleef Conley, head recruiter of Google's tech support program, was having trouble finding IT support specialists so she helped spearhead the certificate program. It's also part of Google's initiative to help Americans get skills needed to get a new job in a changing economy, the company told us.
Social Networks

Twitter Hits Back Again at Claims That Its Employees Monitor Direct Messages (techcrunch.com) 114

From a report on TechCrunch: Twitter is pushing back against claims made by conservative activist group Project Veritas that its employees monitor private user data, including direct messages. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Twitter representative said "we do not proactively review DMs. Period. A limited number of employees have access to such information, for legitimate work purposes, and we enforce strict access protocols for those employees." Last week, Project Veritas, which produces undercover sting operations that purportedly expose liberal biases at media companies and other organizations, posted footage that appeared to show Twitter engineers claiming that teams of employees look at users' private data. One engineer seemed to say that Twitter can hand over President Donald Trump's data, including deleted tweets and direct messages, to the Department of Justice.
Democrats

Democrats Are Just One Vote Shy of Restoring Net Neutrality (engadget.com) 237

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer now says Democrats in the Senate are a single vote away from restoring net neutrality. According to the senator from New York, they now have a total of 50 votes for a Senate resolution of disapproval that would restore the Open Internet Order of 2015 and deliver a stiff rebuke to Ajit Pai and other Republican members of the FCC. It would also prevent the agency from passing a similar measure in the future, all but guaranteeing Net Neutrality is permanently preserved. Right now the resolution has the support of all 49 Democrats in the Senate and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. But Schumer and the rest of the caucus will have to win over one more Republican vote to prevent Vice President Mike Pence from breaking tie and allowing the repeal to stand. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate has 60 days to challenge a decision by an independent agency like the FCC. Democrats have less than 30 days to convince a "moderate" like John McCain or Lindsey Graham to buck their party. Further reading: The Washington Post (paywalled)
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 391

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Google

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelganger (engadget.com) 61

The latest update to the Google Arts & Culture app now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media. Engadget reports: The app, which appears to be unfortunately geo-restricted to the United States, is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. Google matched me with someone who doesn't look like me in the slightest, a certain Sir Peter Francois Bourgeois, based on a painting hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking a buzz around the internet, other folks were satisfied with their matches, some took them as a personal insult, and many were just plain baffled, in that order.
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 141

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 221

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Software

'Very High Level of Confidence' Russia Used Kaspersky Software For Devastating NSA Leaks (yahoo.com) 218

bricko shares a report from Yahoo Finance: Three months after U.S. officials asserted that Russian intelligence used popular antivirus company Kaspersky to steal U.S. classified information, there are indications that the alleged espionage is related to a public campaign of highly damaging NSA leaks by a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers. In August 2016, the Shadow Brokers began leaking classified NSA exploit code that amounted to hacking manuals. In October 2017, U.S. officials told major U.S. newspapers that Russian intelligence leveraged software sold by Kaspersky to exfiltrate classified documents from certain computers. (Kaspersky software, like all antivirus software, requires access to everything stored on a computer so that it can scan for malicious software.) And last week the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators "now believe that those manuals [leaked by Shadow Brokers] may have been obtained using Kaspersky to scan computers on which they were stored." Members of the computer security industry agree with that suspicion. "I think there's a very high level of confidence that the Shadow Brokers dump was directly related to Kaspersky ... and it's very much attributable," David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, told Yahoo Finance. "Unfortunately, we can only hear that from the intelligence side about how they got that information to see if it's legitimate."
The Almighty Buck

City-Owned Internet Services Offer Cheaper and More Transparent Pricing, Says Harvard Study (arstechnica.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper entry-level prices than private Internet providers, and the city-run networks also make it easier for customers to find out the real price of service, a new study from Harvard University researchers found. Researchers collected advertised prices for entry-level broadband plans -- those meeting the federal standard of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds -- offered by 40 community-owned ISPs and compared them to advertised prices from private competitors. The report by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard doesn't provide a complete picture of municipal vs. private pricing. But that's largely because data about private ISPs' prices is often more difficult to get than information about municipal network pricing, the report says. In cases where the researchers were able to compare municipal prices to private ISP prices, the city-run networks almost always offered lower prices. This may help explain why the broadband industry has repeatedly fought against the expansion of municipal broadband networks.
Businesses

Airbus A380, Once the Future of Aviation, May Cease Production (nytimes.com) 239

The days may be numbered for the world's largest passenger aircraft. An anonymous reader shares a report: Airbus, the European aerospace group that makes the A380 superjumbo, said on Monday that it would have to end production of the plane if its only major customer, Emirates, did not order more (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The admission by John Leahy, the company's chief operating officer, was the latest indication that Airbus miscalculated more than two decades ago when it bet that clogged runways would create demand for larger planes that could deliver more people with fewer landing slots. Instead, airlines bypassed the major hubs and ordered midsize planes that could fly directly between regional airports.

[...] When Airbus started delivering the A380 a decade ago, after spending $25 billion to develop it, the company based near Toulouse, France, saw the plane as the solution to airport congestion and to increased demand for air travel. Only so many planes can land at an airport in any given day, so Airbus reasoned that planes carrying more people would allow airports to absorb more passengers. The A380 can carry more than 500 passengers while also offering amenities like showers, first-class suites and a bar.

Firefox

Mozilla Tests Firefox 'Tab Warming' (bleepingcomputer.com) 160

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Mozilla is currently testing a new feature called "Tab Warming" that engineers hope will improve the tab switching process. According to a description of the feature, Tab Warming will watch the user's mouse cursor and start "painting" content inside a tab whenever the user hovers his mouse over one. Firefox will do this on the assumption the user wants to click and switch to view that tab and will want to keep a pre-rendered tab on hand if this occurs. "Those precious milliseconds are used to do the rendering and uploading, so that when the click event finally comes, the [tab] is ready and waiting for you," said Mike Conley, one of the Firefox engineers who worked on this feature.
The Almighty Buck

Canadian Charged With Running LeakedSource.com, Selling Stolen Info (reuters.com) 25

A Canadian man accused of operating the LeakedSource.com website, a major repository of stolen online credentials, has been arrested and charged with trafficking in billions of stolen personal identity records, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Monday. From a report: The site, which was shut down in early 2017, had collected details from a string of major breaches and made them accessible and searchable for a fee. The man, 27-year-old Jordan Evan Bloom, is due to appear in a Toronto court on Monday to hear charges that as administrator of the site he collected some C$247,000 from the sale of stolen records and associated passwords.
Google

Google Brings Map Service Back To China (nikkei.com) 18

Google has relaunched its map service in China after an eight-year absence, signaling a new era of cooperation between the American internet giant and local partners in fields such as artificial intelligence, reports Nikkei. From the report: Chinese netizens hailed the revival of Google Maps on Monday as the American company's great return to China, where its trademark search and other services have been unavailable since 2010. While Google began offering a translation app for Chinese smartphones in March 2017, the map service reaches far more users as one of Google's best-known offerings. The company has set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website and introduced a map app for Chinese iPhones. But when users of the app attempt to use its navigation features, they are automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by Chinese internet leader Alibaba Group Holding.
Businesses

Ford is Throwing $11 Billion at Its Electric Car Problem (theverge.com) 168

Ford said on Monday it will boost its investment in electric vehicles to $11 billion in the next five years, more than doubling a previous commitment. Company's chairman Bill Ford said the car maker would have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its range by the same period. It comes as countries around the world put more pressure on car makers to rein in carbon emissions. From a report: It was a dramatic escalation in Ford's crosstown rivalry with General Motors, which has seen its stock prices rise thanks to its commitments to both electrification and autonomy. GM has said it plans to roll out at least 20 new electric cars by 2023, a goal that puts it in a position to bring battery-powered driving to the mainstream. Last week, it unveiled a concept autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval has had a challenging 2017. It remains strongly profitable, but its sale are stagnant, its costs have increased faster than expected, and its margins have failed to meet targets.
Network

Lenovo Discovers and Removes Backdoor In Networking Switches (bleepingcomputer.com) 42

An anonymous reader writes: Lenovo engineers have discovered a backdoor in the firmware of RackSwitch and BladeCenter networking switches. The company released firmware updates last week. The Chinese company said it found the backdoor after an internal security audit of firmware for products added to its portfolio following the acquisitions of other companies. Lenovo says the backdoor affects only RackSwitch and BladeCenter switches running ENOS (Enterprise Network Operating System).

The backdoor was added to ENOS in 2004 when ENOS was maintained by Nortel's Blade Server Switch Business Unit (BSSBU). Lenovo claims Nortel appears to have authorized the addition of the backdoor "at the request of a BSSBU OEM customer." In a security advisory regarding this issue, Lenovo refers to the backdoor under the name of "HP backdoor." The backdoor code appears to have remained in the firmware even after Nortel spun BSSBU off in 2006 as BLADE Network Technologies (BNT). The backdoor also remained in the code even after IBM acquired BNT in 2010. Lenovo bought IBM's BNT portfolio in 2014.

Google

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can't (wsj.com) 193

Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don't more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers? From a report, shared by a reader: Software on Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones help mobile apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user's location, making it possible to order a car, check in at a local restaurant or receive targeted advertising. But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past. U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can't speak or identify his or her location. After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow. Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones, according to a trade group that represents first responders. For landlines, the system shows a telephone's exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call. That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo., just outside Denver.

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