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Education

The Ig Nobel Awards Celebrate Their 26th First Annual Awards Ceremony (improbable.com) 33

Thursday Harvard's Sanders Theatre hosted the 26th edition of the humorous research awards "that make people laugh, then think...intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." One of this year's winners actually lived as a goat, wearing prosthetic extensions on his arms and legs so he could travel the countryside with other goats. Long-time Slashdot reader tomhath writes: The Journal of Improbable announced these winners:

REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] -- The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] -- Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective...

PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] -- Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called 'On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit'...

PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] -- Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

The Improable Research site lists the rest of this year's 10 winners, as well as every winner for the previous 25 years.
Education

How ITT Tech Screwed Students and Made Millions (gizmodo.com) 276

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares "a grim story about a company that screwed poor people, military veterans, and taxpayers to turn a profit." Gizmodo reports: By the time ITT Technical Institute closed its doors earlier this month, the for-profit college had been selling tenuous diplomas at exorbitant prices for more than 20 years...burying low-income and first-generation students in insurmountable debt, and evading regulators since the early 1990s...
ITT collected $178 million over two years just in federal education funding for veterans -- even while the company projected 33% of its students would ultimately default on their loans -- and last year 70% of the school's total revenue came directly from federal financial aid programs. Gizmodo spoke to one student who "will now spend the rest of his life paying back loans for a degree that is practically useless," after compounding interest turned his $70,000 loan into $200,000 in debt. "Like all of the former students interviewed by Gizmodo, he was placed in a job that did not require professional training" -- specifically, a game-testing position that didn't even require a high school diploma, while ITT "placed" another student in a $5.95-an-hour telemarketing job. Her assessment of ITT? "It was totally worthless."
United States

Kentucky's Shotgun 'Drone Slayer' Gets Sued Again (yahoo.com) 261

"Technology has surpassed the law..." argues a Kentucky man who fired a shotgun at a drone last year. An anonymous Slashdot reader reports: The drone's owner has now filed for damages in Federal Court over the loss of his $1,800 drone, arguing that the shotgun blast was unjustified because his drone wasn't actually trespassing or invading anyone's privacy. The defendant -- who has dubbed himself 'the Drone Slayer' -- said the aerial vehicle was over his garden and his daughter, and the verdict could ultimately set a new precedent in U.S. law: who owns the air?

"Operators need to know where they can fly," argued the drone pilot's lawyer, "and owners must know when they can reasonably expect privacy and be free of prying eyes." He estimates a drone is shot from he skies about once a month, and "What happens typically is that law enforcement doesn't know what to do and civil suits are uncommon as most people don't want to get involved due to the costs."

The Drone Slayer was originally charged with felony counts of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. But all of those charges were dismissed in October when a district judge ruled he "had a right to shoot at the aircraft."
United States

US Panel Extends Nuclear Power Tax Credit (thehill.com) 215

Slashdot reader mdsolar quotes The Hill: The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to remove a key deadline for a nuclear power plant tax credit... The credit was first enacted in 2005 to spur construction of new nuclear plants, but it has gone completely unused because no new plants have come online since then...

It would likely benefit two reactors under construction at Southern Co.'s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia and another two at Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina. Both projects are at risk of missing the 2020 deadline... "When Congress passed the 2005 act, it could not have contemplated the effort it would take to get a nuclear plant designed and licensed," said representative Tom Rice (R-S.C.).

Although one Democrat criticized the extension by arguing that nuclear power "does better in a socialist economy than in a capitalist one, because nuclear energy prefers to have the public do the cleanup, do the insurance, cover all of the losses and it only wants the profits."
Government

Senators Accuse Russia Of Disrupting US Election (washingtonpost.com) 173

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes The Washington Post: Two senior Democratic lawmakers with access to classified intelligence on Thursday accused Russia of "making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election," a charge that appeared aimed at putting pressure on the Obama administration to confront Moscow... "At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes," the statement said. "We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government..."

White House officials have repeatedly insisted that they are awaiting the outcome of a formal FBI investigation, even though U.S. intelligence are said to have concluded with "high confidence" that Russia was responsible for the DNC breach and other attacks. The White House hesitation has become a source of frustration to critics, including senior members of Congress.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials are reportedly investigating whether Donald Trump's foreign policy adviser "opened up private communications with senior Russian officials -- including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president."
United States

U.S. Funds Challenges To North Korea's 'Information Shield' (freekorea.us) 86

The U.S. State Department is pursuing "a detailed plan for making unrestricted, unmonitored, and inexpensive electronic mass communications available to the people of North Korea." Slashdot reader Greg Jones reports: Plenty of government-designed "information" flows out of North Korea. At One Free Korea Joshua Stanton reports that the U.S. State Department just announced a new grant program for information technology solutions to punch through the wall that prevents the free flow of information into North Korea.
"Those of us who wrote and negotiated the [North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act] were equally concerned with direct engagement of the North Korean people..." Stanton writes on his blog, reporting that there's now grants available to fund multiple projects. "If you have the technical knowledge to make this a reality, or know a place online where people with those talents congregate, please share and repost this solicitation and help spread the word."
Medicine

UPS Is Starting To Test Drone Deliveries In the US (qz.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: UPS announced Sept. 23 that it has begun testing drone deliveries in the U.S. with drone manufacturer CyPhy Works. The two companies yesterday completed a test of delivering medicine from the coastal town of Beverly, Massachusetts, to Children's Island, a small island about three miles into the Atlantic Ocean. CyPhy's drone has night-vision capabilities, according to a release shared with Quartz. The test yesterday involved a trial situation where an asthmatic child urgently needed an inhaler, which was dispatched from the mainland to the island, arriving far more quickly than it would've taken a boat to get there. CyPhy's drone autonomously flew supplies over the ocean to a group waiting to receive them on the other end, although there was no actual child with asthma in danger. In May, UPS had announced that it was partnering with the drone company Zipline to deliver medical supplies to rural Rwanda, having invested nearly $1 million into the company. UPS has also invested an undisclosed amount in CyPhy. UPS told Quartz that the FAA was aware of its test, and Houston Mills, a commercial pilot with UPS for over a decade and the company's director of airline safety, was recently announced as a member of the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee. The committee is working with industry experts and companies to figure out how to safely integrate a network of commercial drones into U.S. airspace. You can watch the heroic footage of the trial run here.
Television

You're Paying 40% More For TV Than You Were 5 Years Ago (businessinsider.com) 207

According to data from Leichtman Research's annual study, pay TV subscriptions keep going up and up. So much so that in the last five years, they have gone up by 40 percent. In 2011, subscribers were paying an average of $73.63 for cable or satellite, but now that average stands at roughly $103. From a BusinessInsider report: And it's not helping subscriber growth. "About 82% of households that use a TV currently subscribe to a pay-TV service," Bruce Leichtman said in a statement. "This is down from where it was five years ago, and similar to the penetration level eleven years ago." The pay-TV industry lost 800,000 last quarter subscribers last quarter, according to the research firm SNL Kagan. Putting that on a personal level, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke recently said his own kids don't even pay for TV. Burke has five "millennial" children, ages 19 to 28, and exactly "none" subscribe to cable or satellite, he said at a conference last week.
United States

Probe Of Leaked US NSA Hacking Tools Examines Operative's Mistake (reuters.com) 56

Joseph Menn and John Walcott, reporting for Reuters: A U.S. investigation into a leak of hacking tools used by the National Security Agency is focusing on a theory that one of its operatives carelessly left them available on a remote computer and Russian hackers found them, four people with direct knowledge of the probe told Reuters. The tools, which enable hackers to exploit software flaws in computer and communications systems from vendors such as Cisco Systems and Fortinet Inc, were dumped onto public websites last month by a group calling itself Shadow Brokers. The public release of the tools coincided with U.S. officials saying they had concluded that Russia or its proxies were responsible for hacking political party organizations in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election. On Thursday, lawmakers accused Russia of being responsible. Various explanations have been floated by officials in Washington as to how the tools were stolen. Some feared it was the work of a leaker similar to former agency contractor Edward Snowden, while others suspected the Russians might have hacked into NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Government

Senate Panel Authorizes Money For Mission To Mars (usatoday.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: With a new president on the horizon, a key Senate committee moved Wednesday to protect long-standing priorities of the nation's space program from the potential upheaval of an incoming administration. Members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bipartisan bill authorizing $19.5 billion to continue work on a Mars mission and efforts to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station from U.S. soil -- regardless of shifting political winds. Under the Senate bill, NASA would have an official goal of sending a crewed mission to Mars within the next 25 years, the first time a trip to the Red Planet would be mandated by law. The legislation would authorize money for different NASA components, including $4.5 billion for exploration, nearly $5 billion for space operations and $5.4 billion for science. Beyond money, the measure would: Direct NASA to continue working on the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose vehicle that are the linchpins of a planned mission to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The bill includes specific milestones for an unmanned exploration mission by 2018 and a crewed exploration mission by 2021. Require development of an advanced space suit to protect astronauts on a Mars mission. Continue development of the Commercial Crew Program designed to send astronauts to the space station -- no later than 2018 -- on private rockets launched from U.S. soil. Expand the full use and life of the space station through 2024 while laying the foundation for use through 2028. Allow greater opportunities for aerospace companies to conduct business in Low Earth Orbit. Improve monitoring, diagnosis and treatment of the medical effects astronauts experience from spending time in deep space.
Businesses

Tesla Sues Michigan Over Sales Ban (usatoday.com) 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: Electric automaker Tesla Motors filed a lawsuit Thursday against Michigan state officials, escalating its multi-year battle to sell vehicles directly to consumers. Tesla's action comes less than a week after Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson effectively rejected the automaker's application for dealership and service facilities by asking for proof that Tesla is a franchised dealer. Tesla, unlike other automakers, sells its cars directly to consumers through company-owned stores in other states. "Tesla Motors brings this lawsuit to vindicate its rights under the United States constitution to sell and service its critically-acclaimed, all-electric vehicles at Tesla owned facilities in the State of Michigan," the automaker said in its complaint in federal court. The California automaker named Johnson, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette as defendants. Tesla submitted an application for a dealership license in fall 2015 with a plan to open a retail gallery in Grand Rapids, Mich. In a Sept. 7 hearing, a panel of administrative law examiners heard arguments. Last Thursday, they rejected the license for Tesla. "The license was denied because state law explicitly requires a dealer to have a bona fide contract with an auto manufacturer to sell its vehicles," Johnson said in a statement. Tesla wants to sell its high-end battery-powered cars directly to consumers without a franchised dealer, much like Apple sells its products. The automaker's lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare that the state violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the constitution's commerce clause. Snyder signed a law in October, 2014, that prohibited Tesla from selling cars directly to consumers by requiring all automakers to sell through a network of franchised dealers.
Verizon

Verizon Says It Knows You Don't Need Unlimited Data (digitaltrends.com) 219

Ed Oswald, writing for DigitalTrends: While the wireless industry is moving back to unlimited data, one carrier is not. Verizon chief financial officer Fred Shammo told attendees at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York on Thursday that his company doesn't think you need it, and slammed current offerings. "At the end of the day, people don't need unlimited plans," Shammo said. While this is not the first time he's said this -- in March he claimed unlimited data "doesn't work in an LTE environment," and in 2011 he helped Verizon move away from unlimited plans -- it's now an entirely different market.
Republicans

Trump Opposes Plan For US To Hand Over Internet Oversight To a Global Governance (reuters.com) 524

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump opposes a long-planned transition of oversight of the internet's technical management from the U.S. government to a global community of stakeholders, his campaign said in a statement on Wednesday. Congress should block the handover, scheduled to occur on Oct. 1, "or internet freedom will be lost for good, since there will be no way to make it great again once it is lost," Stephen Miller, national policy director for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a former presidential primary foe of Trump's who has refused to endorse the real estate developer, has led a movement in Congress to block the transition, arguing it could cede control of the internet itself to authoritarian regimes like Russia and China and threaten online freedom. Technical experts have said those claims are baseless, and that a delay will backfire by undermining U.S. credibility in future international negotiations over internet standards and security. Publicly proposed in March 2014, the transfer of oversight of the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is expected to go forward unless Congress votes to block the move. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supports the Obama administration's planned transition to a global community of technologists, civil society groups and internet users, according to policy positions available on her campaign website.
The Courts

With 3D Printer Gun Files, National Security Interest Trumps Free Speech, Court Rules (arstechnica.com) 420

A federal appeals court ruled this week against Defense Distributed, the Texas organization that promotes 3D-printed guns, in a lawsuit that it brought last year against the State Department. In a 2-1 decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was not persuaded that Defense Distributed's right to free speech under the First Amendment outweighs national security concerns. From an ArsTechnica report: The majority concluded: 'Ordinarily, of course, the protection of constitutional rights would be the highest public interest at issue in a case. That is not necessarily true here, however, because the State Department has asserted a very strong public interest in national defense and national security. Indeed, the State Department's stated interest in preventing foreign nationals -- including all manner of enemies of this country -- from obtaining technical data on how to produce weapons and weapon parts is not merely tangentially related to national defense and national security; it lies squarely within that interest.'
Space

Wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base Threatens ULA, SpaceX Launches (latimes.com) 55

Longtime Slashdot reader Bruce Perens writes: A fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast -- currently over 10,000 acres in size -- has approached the pads used by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. No structures have been damaged, but power lines have been destroyed. There is about 1000 feet of firebreak around each pad, but the presence of smoke and the absence of electrical power is potentially a problem for rockets, payloads, and ground-support equipment. The WorldView 4 satellite, a Delta 4 rocket, and a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with at least 7 (potentially 11) Iridium satellites are known to be on site. Ground support equipment at the base constitutes the United States' only access to polar orbit for large rockets without overflying populated areas. Liquid oxygen stored on the site may already have been released as a precaution or boiled off, and there are large supplies of rocket fuel, but these have so far not been a hazard. The Soberanes fire near Big Sur, located 180 miles farther South on the California coast, has gone on for two months, burning 185 square miles and costing over $200 million dollars to fight with no end in sight. Obviously, it's dry out there. The fire forced officials to cancel the Atlas V rocket launch on Sunday, and the next attempt won't occur for a week.
AT&T

AT&T Is Phasing Out the U-Verse Video, Broadband Brand (fiercetelecom.com) 43

AT&T is killing off the 'U-Verse' brand after its $69 billion acquisition of DirecTV. AT&T's broadband and phone services will now be called AT&T Internet and AT&T Phone. The company says the move will bring "simplicity" across the swaths of services it offers. FierceTelecom adds: This transition should not be of any great surprise as the same trend has been taking place with U-verse TV. AT&T has been driving new TV customers to its DirecTV satellite service, a process that could enable the telco to use the additional bandwidth to increase broadband speeds. While AT&T is still supporting current U-verse IPTV customers, the telco has not indicated how long they will continue to offer that service. Additionally, AT&T may also phase out the DirecTV name at some point, but industry insiders said that won't occur until it launches its streaming video service under DirecTV. AT&T has already been moving away from the U-Verse name by directing new TV customers to the company's DirecTV satellite TV service. The company will likely then use the freed bandwidth from that transition to improve overall broadband speeds. Existing U-Verse TV customers are being supported for now, but it's unclear how long that will last.The Hollywood Reporter states that the move is also necessary because AT&T plans to launch three streaming video services next quarter.
Verizon

Comcast Will Launch a Wireless Service Next Year (businessinsider.com) 50

Steve Kovach, writing for Business Insider:Comcast plans to launch its own wireless service in 2017, CEO Brian Roberts said at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference Tuesday. Since Comcast doesn't have its own cell towers, it'll rely on WiFi networks for connectivity. The user will be switched to Verizon's network when they're away from WiFi. There are already a few smaller carriers that offer services like this, like Google's Project Fi and Republic Wireless. Those companies work as mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) and pay major wireless carriers like Sprint or T-Mobile to use their cell towers when users aren't connected to WiFi. MVNOs tend to be cheaper than traditional wireless carriers, offering benefits like the option to only pay for the data you use. The move will also help Comcast and Verizon compete with AT&T, which merged with DirecTV and is able to offer combined wireless, home broadband, and TV packages.
Businesses

More Gig Economy Workers Can Now Get Paid On Demand (bloomberg.com) 108

The gig economy is built on people offering their services on demand. Now more of them will have the option of getting paid just as quickly, reports Bloomberg. From the report: Care.com Inc., Instacart Inc., Postmates Inc. and several other marketplace providers will soon start giving workers the chance to cash out their earnings immediately, instead of waiting for the usual weekly deposit. That's because Stripe Inc., the payment processing service that underpins many of the on-demand companies, will introduce the feature to all customers for a fee. Quick cash is a big draw for workers. Stripe originally built a version of instant payouts at the request of Lyft Inc., the largest U.S. ride-hailing app behind Uber. Lyft began offering same-day pay to its drivers in December. Since then, Stripe has processed $500 million in instant payments for Lyft, and half of all driver payouts now go through that feature, the companies said. "It shows us how valuable this product is to drivers," said Lachy Groom, Stripe's cards lead.
Government

US Regulators Issue Comprehensive Policy On Self-Driving Cars (vox.com) 239

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: On Monday, [The U.S. Department of Transportation] released a surprisingly far-reaching "Federal Automated Vehicles Policy." The policy attempts to do all sorts of things -- we'll get into the details below -- but the overarching motivation is that DOT wants to accelerate the development and adoption of AVs. DOT views AVs as a safety technology that could reduce some of the 38,000 traffic fatalities a year in the U.S., 95 percent of which are caused by human error. It also sees AVs as an accessibility technology that could provide personal transportation to whole populations (disabled, elderly, etc.) who have lacked it. The policy comes in four buckets: What the vehicles need to do to be safe; What federal and state governments need to do; How DOT will use its existing regulatory tools; DOT may need brand new regulatory tools to deal with AVs. The "vehicle performance" section lays out a 15-point safety assessment, so that AV developers and manufacturers know the sorts of things that federal regulators will expect. It covers everything from cybersecurity to data collection to crash response. And then there are "ethical considerations." AVs will have to make life-or-death decisions. The second section addresses the division of responsibilities and authorities between the federal government and state governments, and suggests a model policy that states can adapt for their own use. The feds will retain their authority to set and enforce safety standards, communicate with the public about safety, and occasionally issue guidances about how to meet national standards. States will retain their authority to license human drivers and register cars, set and enforce traffic laws, and regulate vehicle insurance and liability. There are three broad ways that DOT communicates about standards with automakers: letters of interpretation, exemptions and rule-makings. It is promising to speed up all of them in regard to HAVs. DOT is considering a range of new authorities that may be necessary to properly regulate HAVs. The report adds that "DOT has officially abandoned the NHTSA's own levels-of-automation classification in favor of SAE's, which is preferred by the industry. Vox has neat graphic you can view here. President Obama also wrote a piece about self-driving cars in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "In the seven-and-a-half years of my presidency, self-driving cars have gone from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live..."
Bitcoin

Federal Judge Rules Bitcoin Is Money In Case Tied To JPMorgan Hack (reuters.com) 87

Roughly two months ago, a Miami-Dade judge ruled that bitcoin does not actually qualify as money. Now, it appears that bitcoin does indeed qualify as money, according to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan. "Bitcoins are funds within the plain meaning of that term," Nathan wrote. "Bitcoins can be accepted as a payment for goods and services or bought directly from an exchange with a bank account. They therefore function as pecuniary resources and are used as a medium of exchange and a means of payment." Reuters provides some backstory in its report: Bitcoin qualifies as money, a federal judge ruled on Monday, in a decision linked to a criminal case over hacking attacks against JPMorgan Chase and Co and other companies. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan rejected a bid by Anthony Murgio to dismiss two charges related to his alleged operation of Coin.mx, which prosecutors have called an unlicensed bitcoin exchange. Murgio had argued that bitcoin did not qualify as "funds" under the federal law prohibiting the operation of unlicensed money transmitting businesses. But the judge, like her colleague Jed Rakoff in an unrelated 2014 case, said the virtual currency met that definition. Authorities have said Coin.mx was owned by Gery Shalon, an Israeli man who, along with two others, was charged with running a sprawling computer hacking and fraud scheme targeting a dozen companies, including JPMorgan, and exposing personal data of more than 100 million people. That alleged scheme generated hundreds of millions of dollars of profit through pumping up stock prices, online casinos, money laundering and other illegal activity, prosecutors have said.

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