An anonymous reader writes "The head of delivery for the UK's Department for Work and Pensions' flagship welfare reform project, Universal Credit, has said that the department didn't adopt open source and web-based technologies at the beginning of the project because 'such things weren't available' two and a half years ago. Howard Shiplee told the Work and Pensions Committee this week that the department is now using open source technologies in its enhanced version of Universal Credit, which was initially developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and will be rolled out nationally by 2017 for most claimants. The existing system being used in pathfinder pilots and developed by the likes of IBM, HP and Accenture will be largely be replaced by the digital version."
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An anonymous reader writes "Michael Nielsen has written a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'" Bitcoin is going through another period of heavy fluctuation: it fell from a high of around $1,200 per bitcoin to roughly half that, and as of this writing trades around $760 per bitcoin.
Berin Szoka is president and founder of the tech policy think tank TechFreedom. The group promotes a wide variety of digital rights and privacy issues. Most recently, they have started a petition demanding reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that law enforcement will have to get a warrant before accessing emails stored in the cloud. With so much attention paid to the NSA snooping, Berin believes that the over 25-year-old ECPA has been overshadowed and is in dire need of changes. Mr. Szoka has agreed to answer your questions about privacy and government policy online. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
quantr writes with this excerpt from Bloomberg: "China's central bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions, moving to regulate the virtual currency after an 89-fold jump in its value sparked a surge of investor interest in the country. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to below $1,000 on the BitStamp Internet exchange after the People's Bank of China said it isn't a currency with 'real meaning' and doesn't have the same legal status. The public is free to participate in Internet transactions provided they take on the risk themselves, it said. The ban reflects concern about the risk the digital currency may pose to China's capital controls and financial stability after a surge in trading this year made the country the world's biggest trader of Bitcoin, according to exchange operator BTC China. Bitcoin's price jumped more than ninefold in the past two months alone, prompting former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to call it a 'bubble.' 'The concern is that it interferes with normal monetary policy operation,' said Hao Hong, head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. 'It represents an unofficial leakage to the current monetary system and trades globally. It is difficult to regulate and could be used for money laundering.'"
An anonymous reader writes with news of a device built by a company in the U.K. which uses pulses of electromagnetic energy to disrupt the electronic systems of modern cars, causing them to shut down and cut the engine. Here's a description of how it works: "At one end of a disused runway, E2V assembled a varied collection of second-hand cars and motorbikes in order to test the prototype against a range of vehicles. In demonstrations seen by the BBC a car drove towards the device at about 15mph (24km/h). As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt. Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected.''It's a small radar transmitter,' said Andy Wood, product manager for the machine. 'The RF [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "The state of Oregon blames Oracle for the failures of its online health exchange. The health-insurance site still doesn't fully work as intended, with many customers forced to download and fill out paper applications rather than sign up online; Oracle has reportedly informed the state that it will sort out the bulk of technical issues by December 16, a day after those paper applications are due. 'It is the most maddening and frustrating position to be in, absolutely,' Liz Baxter, chairwoman of the board for the online exchange, told NPR. 'We have spent a lot of money to get something done—to get it done well—to serve the people in our state, and it is maddening that we can't seem to get over this last hump.' Oregon state officials insist that, despite payments of $43 million, Oracle missed multiple deadlines in the months leading up to the health exchange's bungled launch." (Read more, below.)
Pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto (whether that name represents one person or several) is believed to hold many millions of dollars in Bitcoin. Various attempts have been made to pin down Nakamoto's identity; the IB Times reports today that a (sadly anonymous) analysis points to George Washington University economics professor Nick Szabo, based on textual analysis and some other clues, such as Szabo's expertise in digital currency and his role as founder of GoldCoin. Szabo's blog Unenumerated is fascinating reading, whether or not this analysis is right.
jones_supa writes "The switch to digital TV broadcasts in Australia has entered its final few days, with Sydney's analog signals being fully switched off today, 3 December. That just leaves Melbourne plus remote central and eastern Australia — and those areas will be switched over on 10 December, completing the country's transition to digital TV. The government runs an information site to assist the remaining crusty luddites with the switch-over."
sandbagger writes "The Large Hadron Collider is the world's biggest science experiment. When spinning, it reportedly generates up to six gigs of data per second. Today's six-terabyte tape cartridges fill rapidly when you're creating that amount of material. The Economist reports that despite the advances in SSDs and hard drives, tape still seems to be the way to go when you need to store massive amounts of digital assets."
CowboyRobot writes "In November, Denmark-based Bitcoin Internet Payment System suffered a DDoS attack. Unfortunately for users of the company's free online wallets for storing bitcoins, the DDoS attack was merely a smokescreen for a digital heist that quickly drained numerous wallets, netting the attackers a reported 1,295 bitcoins — worth nearly $1 million — and leaving wallet users with little chance that they'd ever see their money again. Given the potential spoils from a successful online heist, related attacks are becoming more common. But not all bitcoin heists have been executed via hack attacks or malware. For example, a China-based bitcoin exchange called GBL launched in May. Almost 1,000 people used the service to deposit bitcoins worth about $4.1 million. But the exchange was revealed to be an elaborate scam after whoever launched the site shut it down on October 26 and absconded with the funds. The warnings are all the same: 'Don't trust any online wallet', 'Find alternative storage solutions as soon as possible', and 'You don't have to keep your Bitcoins online with someone else. You can store your Bitcoins yourself, encrypted and offline.'"
New submitter TheRealHocusLocus writes "The FCC is drafting rules to formalize the process of transition of 'last-mile' subscriber circuits to digital IP-based data streams. The move is lauded by AT&T Chairman Tom Wheeler who claims that significant resources are spent to maintain 'legacy' POTS service, though some 100 million still use it. POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure? Despite its analog limitations POTS switches have enforced the use of hard-coded local exchanges and equipment that will faithfully complete local calls even if its network connections are down. But do these IP phones deliver the same promise? For that matter, is any single local cell tower isolated from its parent network of use to anyone at all? I have had a difficult time finding answers to this question, and would love savvy Slashdot folks to weigh in: In a disaster that isolates the community from outside or partitions the country's connectivity — aside from local Plain Old Telephone Service, how many IP and cell phones would continue to function?"
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Since Edward Snowden's disclosures about widespread NSA surveillance, Americans and people everywhere have been presented with a digital variation on an old analog threat: the erosion of freedoms and privacy in exchange, presumably, for safety and security. Bruce Schneier knows the debate well. He's an expert in cryptography and he wrote the book on computer security; Applied Cryptography is one of the field's basic resources, 'the book the NSA never wanted to be published,' raved Wired in 1994. He knows the evidence well too: lately he's been helping the Guardian and the journalist Glenn Greenwald review the documents they have gathered from Snowden, in order to help explain some of the agency's top secret and highly complex spying programs. To do that, Schneier has taken his careful digital privacy regime to a new level, relying on a laptop with an encrypted hard drive that he never connects to the internet. That couldn't prevent a pilfered laptop during, say, a 'black bag operation,' of course. 'I know that if some government really wanted to get my data, there'd be little I could do to stop them,' he says."
assertation writes "According to The Guardian, 62% of readers between the age of 16 and 24 prefer physical copies of books over ebooks. Reasons given were the feel of 'real books,' a perceived unfairly high cost for eBooks, and the ease of sharing printed books. 'On questions of ebook pricing, 28% think that ebooks should be half their current price, while just 8% say that ebook pricing is right.' The preference for physical copies was in contrast to other forms of media, such as games, movies, and music, where a majority preferred the digital version."
schwit1 writes with a short excerpt from The Cable "The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network." A leaked memo containing U.S. suggestions for changes to the ICCPR includes gems like (referring to intercepting communications) "Move 'may threaten' from before 'the foundations of a democratic [society]...' to before 'freedom of expression.' We need to clarify that privacy violations could 'interfere with' freedom of expression and avoid the inaccurate suggestion that all privacy violations are violations of freedom of expression." The U.S. changes are pretty much directed at making dragnet surveillance of non-citizens technically legal.
nk497 writes "Only 25% of Yahoo staff have obeyed the company's request to 'eat their own dog food' and switch to Yahoo Mail, a colorful internal memo has revealed. The leaked email, acquired by All Things Digital, implores staff to move over to the corporate version of Yahoo's webmail system, gently lambasting staff who refuse to part with Microsoft Outlook. The message goes on to take a swipe at what appears to be Yahoo employees' preferred mail client, Microsoft Outlook, describing it as 'anachronism of the now defunct 90s PC era, a pre-web program written at a time when NT Server terrorized the data center landscape with the confidence of a T-Rex born to yuppie dinosaur parents who fully bought into the illusion of their son's utter uniqueness because the big-mouthed, tiny-armed monster infant could mimic the gestures of The Itsy-Bitsy Pterodactyl.'"
mattydread23 writes "You may not think your business has much in common with the New York Times, but the newspaper is a perfect example of how to maintain investment in a large but declining legacy business while simultaneously investing in new areas that will drive future growth. Surprisingly, 10% of the paper's revenue now comes from digital subscriptions and other all-digital products (not including advertising)."
benrothke writes "Many of us have experimented with what it means to be disabled, by sitting in a wheelchair for a few minutes or putting a blindfold over our eyes. In Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind, author Kel Smith details the innumerable obstacles disabled people have to deal with in their attempts to use computers and the Internet. The book observes that while 1 in 7 people in the world have some sort of disability, (including the fact that 1 in every 10 U.S. children has been diagnosed with ADHD), software and hardware product designers, content providers and the companies who support these teams often approach accessibility as an add-on, not as a core component. Adding accessibility functionality to support disabled people is often seen as a lowest common denominator feature. With the companies unaware of the universal benefit their solution could potentially bring to a wider audience. " Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from the Washington Post "Researchers are trying to plant a digital seed for artificial intelligence by letting a massive computer system browse millions of pictures and decide for itself what they all mean. The system at Carnegie Mellon University is called NEIL, short for Never Ending Image Learning. In mid-July, it began searching the Internet for images 24/7 and, in tiny steps, is deciding for itself how those images relate to each other. The goal is to recreate what we call common sense — the ability to learn things without being specifically taught."
Tutter writes with news that Smellovision is being joined in reality by Tasteovision. "Possible applications in healthcare and gaming — it works by using electrodes on your tongue to stimulate salty, sweet, bitter and sour. It can produce the taste of virtual foods or drinks, allowing you to enjoy the taste without the calories (or chewing...). They are also good reasons to do this, for example, a diabetic can now taste sweets without actually affecting their blood sugar levels. Quote: 'The team is also working on a spin-off called a digital lollipop that will give the effect of a continuous sugar hit – but without sugar. For taste messaging they have developed TOIP — Taste Over Internet Protocol. This is a data format that makes it easy to transmit information on how to recreate the different tastes via the electrode. ... It is early days. The four major taste components, plus the fifth, the savoury 'umami' tang, are only a part of what we call flavor. Smell and texture are important, too — and the team now wants to work on adding those effects.' A video on youtube shows what it can do."
First time accepted submitter memnock writes "ABC new reports: 'Political organizations can't accept contributions in the form of bitcoins, at least for now, The Federal Election Commission said Thursday. The commission passed on a request by the Conservative Action Fund, a political action committee, to use the digital currency. That group had asked the FEC recently whether it could accept bitcoins, how it could spend them and how donors must report those contributions. It was not immediately clear whether the same ruling would apply to individual political candidates.' Slashdot reported earlier this week that other federal agencies have taken positions that may recognize or regulate the currency."