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Mars

Scientists Enter Hawaii Dome In Eight-Month Mars Space Mission Study (reuters.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Six scientists have entered a dome perched atop a remote volcano in Hawaii where they will spend the next eight months in isolation to simulate life for astronauts traveling to Mars, the University of Hawaii said. The study is designed to help NASA better understand human behavior and performance during long space missions as the U.S. space agency explores plans for a manned mission to the Red Planet. The crew will perform geological field work and basic daily tasks in the 1,200-square-foot (365 m) dome, located in an abandoned quarry 8,000 feet (2.5 km) above sea level on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii's Big Island. There is little vegetation and the scientists will have no contact with the outside world, said the university, which operates the dome. Communications with a mission control team will be time-delayed to match the 20-minute travel time of radio waves passing between Earth and Mars. "Daily routines include food preparation from only shelf-stable ingredients, exercise, research and fieldwork aligned with NASA's planetary exploration expectations," the university said. The project is intended to create guidelines for future missions to Mars, some 35 million miles (56 million km) away, a long-term goal of the U.S. human space program. The NASA-funded study, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), is the fifth of its kind.
NASA

NASA Is Planning Mission To An Asteroid Worth $10 Quintillion (usatoday.com) 182

New submitter kugo2006 writes: NASA announced a plan to research 16 Psyche, an asteroid potentially as large as Mars and primarily composed of Iron and Nickel. The rock is unique in that it has an exposed core, likely a result of a series of collisions, according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator. The mission's spacecraft would launch in 2023 and arrive in 2030. According to Global News, Elkins-Tanton calculates that the iron in 16 Psyche would be worth $10,000 quadrillion ($10 quintillion).
The Almighty Buck

The Mind-Reading Gadget For Dogs That Got Funded, But Didn't Get Built (ieee.org) 46

the_newsbeagle writes: Crowdfunding campaigns that fail to deliver may be all too common, but some flameouts merit examination. Like this brain-scanning gadget for dogs, which promised to translate their barks into human language. It's not quite as goofy as it sounds: The campaigners planned to use standard EEG tech to record the dogs' brainwaves, and said they could correlate those electrical patterns with general states of mind like excitement, hunger, and curiosity. The campaign got a ton of attention in the press and raised twice the money it aimed for. But then the No More Woof team seemed to vanish, leaving backers furious. This article explains what went wrong with the campaign, and what it says about the state of neurotech gadgets for consumers.
Movies

CBS, Paramount Settle Lawsuit Over 'Star Trek' Fan Film (hollywoodreporter.com) 111

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Hollywood Reporter: Stand down from battle stations. Star Trek rights holders CBS and Paramount have seen the logic of settling a copyright suit against Alec Peters, who solicited money on crowdfunding sites and hired professionals to make a YouTube short and a script of a planned feature film focused on a fictional event -- a Starfleet captain's victory in a war with the Klingon Empire -- referenced in the original 1960s Gene Roddenberry television series. Thanks to the settlement, CBS and Paramount won't be going to trial on Stardate 47634.44, known to most as Jan. 31, 2017. According to a joint statement, "Paramount Pictures Corporation, CBS Studios Inc., Axanar Productions, Inc. and Alec Peters are pleased to announce that the litigation regarding Axanar's film Prelude to Axanar and its proposed film Axanar has been resolved. Axanar and Mr. Peters acknowledge that both films were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law." Peters' Axanar video and script, which feature such arguably copyrighted elements as Vulcan ears, the Klingon language and an obscure character from a 1969 episode, sparked a lawsuit in December 2015. The litigation then proceeded at warp speed with the case almost making it to trial in just 13 months, an amazingly brisk pace by typical standards. When Axanar comes out, it will look different. "Axanar and Mr. Peters have agreed to make substantial changes to Axanar to resolve this litigation, and have also assured the copyright holders that any future Star Trek fan films produced by Axanar or Mr. Peters will be in accordance with the 'Guidelines for Fan Films' distributed by CBS and Paramount in June 2016," states the parties' joint announcement of a settlement.
AT&T

Second Time In 9 Months: AT&T Raises Phone Activation Fee $5, Now Charges $25 (arstechnica.com) 57

For the second time in 9 months, ATT is raising its activation and upgrade fee. In April 2016, the fee for non-contract customers was raised from $15 to $20. Today, it has been raised another $5, from $20 to $25, according to PhoneScoop. Ars Technica reports: As the mobile carrier switched from contracts to device payment plans, ATT initially did not charge an activation and upgrade fee for customers who brought their own phone or bought one from ATT on an installment plan. But in July 2015, ATT started charging a $15 activation fee to customers who don't sign two-year contracts. (ATT also raised the activation/upgrade fee for contract customers from $40 to $45 in July 2015.) The $25 fee is charged for new activations or upgrades when customers purchase devices on installment agreements, ATT says. Customers who bring their own phone to the network are charged the $25 fee when they activate a new line of service, but not when they upgrade phones on an existing line. "We are making a minor adjustment to our activation and upgrade fees. The change is effective today," ATT told Ars. ATT also still charges the $45 activation and upgrade fee on two-year contracts, but those contracts are "available only on select devices."
Education

New Senate Bill Would Give US Grads Preference In Receiving H-1B Visas (computerworld.com) 187

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: A new bill in Congress would give foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools priority in getting an H-1B visa. The legislation also "explicitly prohibits" the replacement of American workers by visa holders. This bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, was announced Thursday by its co-sponsors, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), longtime allies on H-1B reform. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives this bill an immediate big leg up in the legislative process. This legislation would end the annual random distribution, via a lottery, of H-1B visas, and replace it with a system to give priority to certain types of students. Foreign nationals in the best position to get one of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually will have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. school, have a well-paying job offer, and have preferred skills. The specific skills weren't identified, but will likely be STEM-related. "Congress created these programs to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it," said Grassley, in a statement. "Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor."
AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 130

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
Businesses

Apple Sues Qualcomm For Roughly $1 Billion Over Royalties (cnbc.com) 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Apple is suing Qualcomm for roughly $1 billion, saying Qualcomm has been "charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with." The suit follows the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Qualcomm earlier this week over unfair patent licensing practices. Apple says that Qualcomm has taken "radical steps," including "withholding nearly $1 billion in payments from Apple as retaliation for responding truthfully to law enforcement agencies investigating them." Apple added, "Despite being just one of over a dozen companies who contributed to basic cellular standards, Qualcomm insists on charging Apple at least five times more in payments than all the other cellular patent licensors we have agreements with combined." Apple also alleges that once it began cooperating with Korean authorities' antitrust investigation of Qualcomm, the company withheld $1 billion in retaliation. Korean regulators fined Qualcomm $854 million for unfair trade practices in December.
AT&T

Despite Glitches, AT&T's DirecTV Now Hits 200,000 Subscribers in Its First Month (techcrunch.com) 25

AT&T's new live TV streaming service DirecTV Now has been off to a shaky start in terms of performance, but that hasn't stemmed the flow of sign-ups, AT&T reports. The company said the service added more than 200,000 subscribers in its first month of operations. From a report on TechCrunch: These details were included in an SEC filing for the quarter ending on December 31, 2016. DirecTV Now launched on November 30, 2016. The filing also notes the additions only include paying customers. To be clear, there's no free tier for DirecTV Now, but the company has been offering free trials so customers can kick the tires before committing to a subscription plan. Of course, it's not entirely surprising that DirecTV Now was able to gain so many customers in such a short period of time. On paper, at least, the service sounds compelling.
Democrats

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As the 45th US President (reuters.com) 1370

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to "America First" policies at home and abroad. Reuters reports: As scattered protests erupted elsewhere in Washington, Trump raised his right hand and put his left on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated a 35-word oath of office from the U.S. Constitution, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Businesses

Uber Will Pay $20 Million For Exaggerating Drivers' Earnings (engadget.com) 70

Uber is paying $20 million to settle allegations that it duped people into driving for its ride-hailing service with false promises about how much they would earn and how much they would have to pay to finance a car. From a report: The FTC claimed that Uber was advertising an annual median income of over $90,000 per year for uberX drivers in New York and more than $74,000 for uberX drivers in San Francisco. But, as the commission found out, less than 10 percent of all drivers in those cities actually make that much. The complaint also alleges that Uber was inflating the hourly earnings on job boards like Craigslist. New drivers who financed a new car through Uber's Vehicle Solutions Program found out the company's claims were too good to be true as well. Although Uber told new drivers they would be able to lease a new car for around $119 per week, the actual lease rates never dipped below $200 from late 2013 to April 2015. And, despite its promise of delivering "the best financing options available," it turns out that Uber's rates were actually worse than consumers with similar credit scores could have gotten elsewhere. Adding insult to overpriced injury, Uber tacked on mileage limits to lease agreements that were advertised with unlimited mileage.
Security

Top Security Researchers Ask The Guardian To Retract Its WhatsApp Backdoor Report (technosociology.org) 67

Earlier this month The Guardian reported what it called a "backdoor" in WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned instant messaging app. Some security researchers were quick to call out The Guardian for what they concluded was irresponsible journalism and misleading story. Now, a group of over three dozen security researchers including Matthew Green and Bruce Schneier (as well as some from companies such as Google, Mozilla, Cloudflare, and EFF) have signed a long editorial post, pointing out where The Guardian's report fell short, and also asking the publication to retract the story. From the story: The WhatsApp behavior described is not a backdoor, but a defensible user-interface trade-off. A debate on this trade-off is fine, but calling this a "loophole" or a "backdoor" is not productive or accurate. The threat is remote, quite limited in scope, applicability (requiring a server or phone number compromise) and stealthiness (users who have the setting enabled still see a warning; "even if after the fact). The fact that warnings exist means that such attacks would almost certainly be quickly detected by security-aware users. This limits this method. Telling people to switch away from WhatsApp is very concretely endangering people. Signal is not an option for many people. These concerns are concrete, and my alarm is from observing what's actually been happening since the publication of this story and years of experience in these areas. You never should have reported on such a crucial issue without interviewing a wide range of experts. The vaccine metaphor is apt: you effectively ran a "vaccines can kill you" story without interviewing doctors, and your defense seems to be, "but vaccines do kill people [through extremely rare side effects]."
Facebook

Facebook Has a Team That Handles Mark Zuckerberg's Page (cnet.com) 55

theodp writes: Q. How many Facebook employees does it take to produce Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page? A. More than a dozen! CNET's Ian Sherr offers his take on the news that Facebook has a team that handles Mark Zuckerberg's page: "Ever notice the photos, videos and posts on the profile page for Facebook's CEO are a lot nicer looking or better written than yours? Don't feel bad. Mark Zuckerberg has a team of people who are increasingly managing his public persona, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Not only do they help write speeches and posts, but they also take photographs of his family and his travels, interspersing them with infographics about the company's user growth and sales. There're even people who delete harassing comments and spam for him. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company's service is an easy way for executives to connect with people." Wonder how many people it took to help craft the latest post, in which Zuck fired back at "some misleading stories going around" about "some land" he purchased in Hawaii (which another Zuck post noted also serves as a petting zoo of sorts for his daughter).
Space

Galileo Satellites Are Experiencing Multiple Clock Failures (bbc.com) 181

elgatozorbas writes: According to a BBC article, the onboard atomic clocks that drive the satellite-navigation signals on Europe's Galileo network have been failing at an alarming rate. From the report: "Across the 18 satellites now in orbit, nine clocks have stopped operating. Three are traditional rubidium devices; six are the more precise hydrogen maser instruments that were designed to give Galileo superior performance to the American GPS network. Each Galileo satellite carries two rubidium and two hydrogen maser clocks. The multiple installation enables a satellite to keep working after an initial failure. All 18 spacecraft currently in space continue to operate, but one of them is now down to just two clocks. Most of the maser failures (5) have occurred on the satellites that were originally sent into orbit to validate the system, whereas all three rubidium stoppages are on the spacecraft that were subsequently launched to fill out the network. Esa staff at its technical centre, ESTEC, in the Netherlands are trying to isolate the cause the of failures - with the assistance of the clock (Spectratime of Switzerland) and satellite manufacturers (Airbus and Thales Alenia Space; OHB and SSTL). It is understood engineers have managed to restart another hydrogen clock that had stopped. It appears the rubidium failures 'all seem to have a consistent signature, linked to probable short circuits, and possibly a particular test procedure performed on the ground.'"
Earth

Neuroscience Can't Explain How a Microprocessor Works (economist.com) 159

mspohr writes: The Economist has an interesting story about two neuroscientists/engineers -- Eric Jonas of the University of California, Berkeley, and Konrad Kording of Northwestern University, in Chicago -- who decided to test the methods of neuroscience using a 6502 processor. Their results are published in the PLOS Computational Biology journal. Neuroscientists explore how the brain works by looking at damaged brains and monitoring inputs and outputs to try to infer intermediate processing. They did the same with the 6502 processor which was used in early Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. What they discovered was that these methods were sorely lacking in that they often pointed in the wrong direction and missed important processing steps.
Earth

Scottish Government Targets 66% Emissions Cut By 2032 (bbc.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The Scottish government has outlined a new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2032. Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham set out the government's draft climate change plan for the next 15 years at Holyrood. She also targeted a fully-decarbonized electricity sector and 80% of domestic heat coming from low-carbon sources. Ministers committed last year to cut harmful CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, with a new interim target of 50% by 2020. The previous interim target of 42% was met in 2014 -- six years early. However, the independent Committee on Climate Change said the decrease was largely down to a warmer than average winter reducing the demand for heating. Ms Cunningham said the new targets demonstrated "a new level of ambition" to build a low-carbon economy and a healthier Scotland. Goals to be achieved by 2032 include: Cutting greenhouse emissions by 66%; A fully-decarbonized electricity sector; 80% of domestic heat to come from low-carbon heat technologies; Proportion of ultra-low emission new cars and vans registered in Scotland annually to hit 40%; 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands restored; Annual woodland creation target increased to at least 15,000 hectares per year. The 172-page document sets a road map for decarbonizing Scotland. The aim -- although not new -- is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2032. Among the policies are making half of Scotland's buses low-carbon, full-decarbonizing the electricity sector and making 80% of homes heated by low-carbon technologies.
Operating Systems

Oracle Scraps Plans For Solaris 12 (theregister.co.uk) 113

bobthesungeek76036 writes: According to The Register, Solaris 12 has been removed from Oracle roadmaps. This pretty much signals the demise of Solaris (as if we didn't already know that...) From the report: "The new blueprint -- dated January 13, 2017 -- omits any word of Solaris 12 that Oracle included in the same document's 2014 edition, instead mentioning 'Solaris 11.next' as due to debut during this year or the next complete with 'Cloud Deployment and Integration Enhancements.' At the time of writing, search engines produce no results for 'Solaris 11.next.' The Register has asked Oracle for more information. The roadmap also mentions a new generation of SPARC silicon in 2017, dubbed SPARC Next, and then in 2020 SPARC Next+. The speeds and capabilities mentioned in the 2017 document improve slightly on those mentioned in the 2014 roadmap.
Crime

South Korean Court Dismisses Arrest Warrant For Samsung Chief (reuters.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A South Korean court on Thursday dismissed an arrest warrant against the head of Samsung Group, the country's largest conglomerate, amid a graft scandal that has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. But the reprieve for Jay Y. Lee, 48, may only be temporary, as the special prosecutor's office said it would pursue the case. Lee, who has led Samsung since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, was still likely to face the same charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, legal analysts said, even if he is not detained. The special prosecutor's office said it would be continuing its probe but had not decided whether to make another arrest warrant request, and the setback would not change its plans to investigate other conglomerates. Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said the prosecution was unconvinced by the Samsung chief's argument that he was a victim of coercion due to pressure from Park. The office has accused Lee of paying multi-million dollar bribes to Park's confidant, Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the heart of the scandal, to win support from the National Pension Service for a controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung Group affiliates. The merger helped cement Lee's control over the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals business empire.
United States

32% of All US Adults Watch Pirated Content (torrentfreak.com) 249

Nearly a third of all US adults admit to having downloaded or streamed pirated movies or TV-shows, a new survey has found. Even though many are aware that watching pirated content is not permitted, a large number of pirates are particularly hard to deter. According to a report from TorrentFreak: This is one of the main conclusions of research conducted by anti-piracy firm Irdeto, which works with prominent clients including Twentieth Century Fox and Starz. Through YouGov, the company conducted a representative survey of over 1,000 respondents which found that 32 percent of all US adults admit to streaming or downloading pirated video content. These self-confessed pirates are interested in a wide variety of video content. TV-shows and movies that still play in theaters are on the top of the list for many, with 24 percent each, but older movies, live sports and Netflix originals are mentioned as well. The data further show that the majority of US adults (69%) know that piracy is illegal. Interestingly, this also means that a large chunk of the population believes that they're doing nothing wrong.
United States

Google Uses Search To Push Its Products: WSJ (usatoday.com) 62

Ads for Google and related companies were found in the top spot in 91% of 25,000 searches related to items, according to a report on WSJ. For example, a search for "phones" would produce ads for Google Pixel, which the company launched last year. From a report: Similar results were found for searches on "Watches" or "smoke detector," which produced ads for Android smartwatches and Nest devices, respectively. In a statement, Google says their marketing programs are "carefully designed" to not impact outside advertisers. "All our bids are excluded from the auction when determining the price paid by other advertisers, and we have strict rules and processes -- set to tougher levels than our customers -- to govern the use of our own ads products." The auction is a process deciding which ads will appear for users when they type in certain search queries. Strategies such as using relevant keywords give advertisers a better shot at their ad appearing on a search results page.

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