Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 16

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Security

Author of BrickerBot Malware Retires, Says He Bricked 10 Million IoT Devices (bleepingcomputer.com) 52

An anonymous reader writes: The author of BrickerBot -- the malware that bricks IoT devices -- has announced his retirement in an email to Bleeping Computer, also claiming to have bricked over 10 million devices since he started the "Internet Chemotherapy" project in November 2016. Similar to the authors of the Mirai malware, the BrickerBot developer dumped his malware's source code online, allowing other crooks to profit from his code. The code is said to contain at least one zero-day. In a farewell message left on hundreds of hacked routers, the BrickerBot author also published a list of incidents (ISP downtimes) he caused, while also admitting he is likely to have drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies. "There's also only so long that I can keep doing something like this before the government types are able to correlate my likely network routes (I have already been active for far too long to remain safe). For a while now my worst-case scenario hasn't been going to jail, but simply vanishing in the middle of the night as soon as some unpleasant government figures out who I am," the hacker said.
Cloud

Trump Administration Calls For Government IT To Adopt Cloud Services (reuters.com) 87

According to Reuters, The White House said Wednesday the U.S. government needs a major overhaul of information technology systems and should take steps to better protect data and accelerate efforts to use cloud-based technology. The report outlined a timeline over the next year for IT reforms and a detailed implementation plan. One unnamed cloud-based email provider has agreed to assist in keeping track of government spending on cloud-based email migration. From the report: The report said the federal government must eliminate barriers to using commercial cloud-based technology. "Federal agencies must consolidate their IT investments and place more trust in services and infrastructure operated by others," the report found. Government agencies often pay dramatically different prices for the same IT item, the report said, sometimes three or four times as much. A 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion on IT annually but said spending has fallen by $7.3 billion since 2010. In 2015, there were at least 7,000 separate IT investments by the U.S. government. The $80 billion figure does not include Defense Department classified IT systems and 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The GAO report found some agencies are using systems that have components that are at least 50 years old.
Open Source

Avast Launches Open-Source Decompiler For Machine Code (techspot.com) 54

Greg Synek reports via TechSpot: To help with the reverse engineering of malware, Avast has released an open-source version of its machine-code decompiler, RetDec, that has been under development for over seven years. RetDec supports a variety of architectures aside from those used on traditional desktops including ARM, PIC32, PowerPC and MIPS. As Internet of Things devices proliferate throughout our homes and inside private businesses, being able to effectively analyze the code running on all of these new devices becomes a necessity to ensure security. In addition to the open-source version found on GitHub, RetDec is also being provided as a web service.

Simply upload a supported executable or machine code and get a reasonably rebuilt version of the source code. It is not possible to retrieve the exact original code of any executable compiled to machine code but obtaining a working or almost working copy of equivalent code can greatly expedite the reverse engineering of software. For any curious developers out there, a REST API is also provided to allow third-party applications to use the decompilation service. A plugin for IDA disassembler is also available for those experienced with decompiling software.

Software

T-Mobile Is Becoming a Cable Company (engadget.com) 68

T-Mobile has revealed that it's launching a TV service in 2018, and that is has acquired Layer3 TV (a company that integrates TV, streaming and social networking) to make this happen. The company thinks people are ditching cable due to the providers, not TV itself. Engadget reports: It claims that it can "uncarrier" TV the way it did with wireless service, and has already targeted a few areas it thinks it can fix: it doesn't like the years-long contracts, bloated bundles, outdated tech and poor customer service that are staples of TV service in the U.S. T-Mobile hasn't gone into detail about the functionality of the service yet. How will it be delivered? How much will it cost? Where will it be available? And will this affect the company's free Netflix offer? This is more a declaration of intent than a concrete roadmap, so it's far from certain that the company will live up to its promises. Ultimately, the move represents a big bet on T-Mobile's part: that people like TV and are cutting the cord based on a disdain for the companies, not the service. There's a degree of truth to that when many Americans are all too familiar with paying ever-increasing rates to get hundreds of channels they don't watch. However, there's no guarantee that it'll work in an era when many people (particularly younger people) are more likely to use Netflix, YouTube or a streaming TV service like Sling TV.
Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 215

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

AT&T

AT&T Begins Testing High-Speed Internet Over Power Lines (reuters.com) 88

AT&T has started trials to deliver high-speed internet over power lines. The company announced the news on Wednesday and said that trials have started in Georgia state and a non-U.S. location. Reuters reports: AT&T aims to eventually deliver speeds faster than the 1 gigabit per second consumers can currently get through fiber internet service using high-frequency airwaves that travel along power lines. While the Georgia trial is in a rural area, the service could potentially be deployed in suburbs and cities, the company said in a statement. AT&T said it had no timeline for commercial deployment and that it would look to expand trials as it develops the technology.

"We think this product is eventually one that could actually serve anywhere near a power line," said Marachel Knight, AT&T's senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in an interview. She added that AT&T chose an international trial location in part because the market opportunity extends beyond the United States.

The Almighty Buck

Patreon Scraps New Service Fee, Apologizes To Users (theverge.com) 42

Patreon has decided to halt its plans to add a service fee to patrons' pledges, a proposed update that angered many users. "We're going to press pause," CEO Jack Conte tells The Verge. "Folks have been adamant about the problems with the new system, and so basically, we have to solve those problems first." The company plans to work with creators on a plan that will solve issues with the current payment system, but won't create major new problems in their stead. From the report: Conte published a blog post laying out the core problems, alongside an apology. "Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I'm sorry," it reads. "We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator."

Conte says that any new system will need to take the popularity of small pledges into account, and preserve the benefits of aggregation. It will also need to give artists more autonomy, rather than announcing a sweeping overall change directly to users. "The overwhelming sentiment was that we overstepped our bounds" with the non-negotiable fee, he says. "I agree, we messed that up. We put ourselves between the creator and their fans and we basically told them how to run their business, and that's not okay." Webcomic creator Jeph Jacques previously quoted Conte as saying Patreon "absolutely fucked up that rollout."

AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.
Security

Maker of Sneaky Mac Adware Sends Security Researcher Cease-and-Desist Letters (zdnet.com) 74

Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: The maker of a sneaky adware that hijacks a user's browser to serve ads is back with a new, more advanced version -- one that can gain root privileges and spy on the user's activities. News of the updated adware dropped Tuesday in a lengthy write-up by Amit Serper, principal security researcher at Cybereason. The adware, dubbed OSX.Pirrit, is still highly active, infecting tens of thousands of Macs, according to Serper, who has tracked the malware and its different versions for over a year. Serper's detailed write-up is well worth the read. [...] TargetingEdge sent cease-and-desist letters to try to prevent Serper from publishing his research. "We've received several letters over the past two weeks," Serper told ZDNet. "We decided to publish anyway because we're sick of shady 'adware' companies and their threats."
Communications

Someone Used Wet String To Get a Broadband Connection (vice.com) 69

dmoberhaus shares a Motherboard report: A UK techie with a sense of humor may have found an alternative to expensive corporate broadband cables: some wet string. It's an old joke among network technicians that it's possible to get a broadband connection with anything, even if it's just two cans connected with some wet string. As detailed in a blog post by Adrian Kennard, who runs an ISP called Andrews & Arnold in the UK, one of his colleagues took the joke literally and actually established a broadband connection using some wet string. Broadband is a catch-all term for high speed internet access, but there are many different kinds of broadband internet connections. For example, there are fiber optic connections that route data using light and satellite connections, but one of the most common types is called an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which connects your computer to the internet using a phone line. Usually, broadband connections rely on wires made of a conductive substances like copper. In the case of the Andrews & Arnold technician, however, they used about 6 feet of twine soaked in salt water (better conductivity than fresh water) that was connected to alligator clips to establish the connection. According to the BBC, this worked because the connection "is not really about the flow of current." Instead, the string is acting as a guide for an electromagnetic wave -- the broadband signal carrying the data -- and the medium for a waveguide isn't so important.
Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 219

The Russia-linked troll farm that used Facebook to target Americans during last year's election was also active in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source), the social media company has admitted. From a report: In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Facebook said accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency spent $0.97 for three ads in the days before the EU referendum. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds in the UK before the country voted to leave the EU last year. For months the social media company has sidestepped questions from MPs and journalists about Russian interference through its platform in the UK. The concerns were fuelled by revelations this summer that Facebook had been weaponised by Russian entities before the election of US President Donald Trump. France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted. "We strongly support the Commission's efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission's request very seriously," Facebook said in the letter.
Android

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone Considered Anything But (theregister.co.uk) 115

An anonymous reader shares a report: Andy Rubin's ambitions to create a new consumer electronics ecosystem are floundering at base camp. Sales of Essential's phone, which forms a key part of the strategy, are tepid. Google Play reports a mere 50,000 download of Essential's Camera app so far, the Android Police blog notes. This doesn't paint the full picture, but it can be assumed a fairly complete one, barring a few brush strokes. Essential launched in the US with support from Sprint, at a recommended SIM-free retail price of $699. After reported sales of just five thousand in the first month, this was slashed to $499 and could be grabbed for $399 in the post-Thanksgiving sales. As devices from different manufacturers proliferate in the home, Rubin has alluded to "a new operating system so it can speak all those protocols and it can do it securely and privately." But rather than launching a new software platform he's had to launch hardware.
Businesses

Net Neutrality Protests Move Online, Yet Big Tech Is Quiet (nytimes.com) 70

The New York Times: Protests to preserve net neutrality, or rules that ensure equal access to the internet, migrated online on Tuesday, with numerous online companies posting calls on their sites for action to stop a vote later this week. Reddit, Etsy and Kickstarter were among the sites warning that the proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to roll back so-called net neutrality rules would fundamentally change the way the internet is experienced. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, cleared its entire home screen for a sparse white screen reading "Defend Net Neutrality" in large letters. Reddit, the popular online message board, pushed in multiple ways on its site for keeping the rules, including a pop-up box on its home screen. But the online protests also highlighted how the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken a back seat in the debate about protecting net neutrality (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; syndicated source), rules that prohibit internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing sites or for charging people or companies for faster speeds of particular sites. For the most part, the large tech companies did not engage in the protest on Tuesday. In the past, the companies have played a leading role in supporting the rules.
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 168

Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writing for Recode: With an ounce of reflection, one knows that none of this will come to pass, and the imagined doom will join the failed catastrophic predictions of Y2K and massive snow storms that fizzle to mere dustings -- all too common in Washington, D.C. Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building. The vibrant and open internet that Americans cherish isn't going anywhere. In the days, weeks and years following this vote, Americans will be merrily shopping online for the holidays, posting pictures on Instagram, vigorously voicing political views on Facebook and asking Alexa the score of the game. Startups and small business will continue to hatch and flourish, and students will be online, studiously taking courses. Time will prove that the FCC did not destroy the internet, and our digital lives will go on just as they have for years. This confidence rests on the fact that ISPs highly value the open internet and the principles of net neutrality, much more than some animated activists would have you think. Why? For one, because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet.
AI

What Does Artificial Intelligence Actually Mean? (qz.com) 121

An anonymous reader writes: A new bill (pdf) drafted by senator Maria Cantwell asks the Department of Commerce to establish a committee on artificial intelligence to advise the federal government on how AI should be implemented and regulated. Passing of the bill would trigger a process in which the secretary of commerce would be required to release guidelines for legislation of AI within a year and a half. As with any legislation, the proposed bill defines key terms. In this, we have a look at how the federal government might one day classify artificial intelligence. Here are the five definitions given:

A) Any artificial systems that perform tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence.
B) Systems that think like humans, such as cognitive architectures and neural networks.
C) Systems that act like humans, such as systems that can pass the Turing test or other comparable test via natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and learning.
D) A set of techniques, including machine learning, that seek to approximate some cognitive task.
E) Systems that act rationally, such as intelligent software agents and embodied robots that achieve goals via perception, planning, reasoning, learning, communicating, decision-making, and acting.

AMD

AMD Is Open-Sourcing Their Official Vulkan Linux Driver (phoronix.com) 60

An anonymous reader writes: While many of you have likely heard of the "RADV" open-source Vulkan driver, it's been a community-written driver up to this point in the absence of AMD's official, cross-platform Vulkan driver being open-source. That's now changed with AMD now open-sourcing their official Vulkan driver. The code drop is imminent and they are encouraging the use of it for quick support of new AMD hardware, access to the Radeon GPU Profiler, easy integration of AMD Vulkan extensions, and enabling third-party extensions. For now at least it does provide better Vulkan performance than RADV but the RADV developers have indicated they plan to continue development of their Mesa-based Vulkan driver.
The Almighty Buck

The Silicon Valley Paradox: One In Four People Are At Risk of Hunger (theguardian.com) 345

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: One in four people in Silicon Valley are at risk of hunger, researchers at the Second Harvest food bank have found. Using hundreds of community interviews and data modeling, a new study suggests that 26.8% of the population -- almost 720,000 people -- qualify as "food insecure" based on risk factors such as missing meals, relying on food banks or food stamps, borrowing money for food, or neglecting bills and rent in order to buy groceries. Nearly a quarter are families with children. "We call it the Silicon Valley paradox," says Steve Brennan, the food bank's marketing director. "As the economy gets better we seem to be serving more people." Since the recession, Second Harvest has seen demand spike by 46%. The bank is at the center of the Silicon Valley boom -- both literally and figuratively. It sits just half a mile from Cisco's headquarters and counts Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg among its major donors. But the need it serves is exacerbated by this industry's wealth; as high-paying tech firms move in, the cost of living rises for everyone else.

The scale of the problem becomes apparent on a visit to Second Harvest, the only food bank serving Silicon Valley and one of the largest in the country. In any given month it provides meals for 257,000 people -- 66m pounds of food last year. Because poverty is often shrouded in shame, their clients' situations can come as a surprise. "Often we think of somebody visibly hungry, the traditional homeless person," Brennan said. "But this study is putting light on the non-traditional homeless: people living in their car or a garage, working people who have to choose between rent and food, people without access to a kitchen."

Government

Trump Signs Law Forcing Drone Users To Register With Government (thehill.com) 438

President Trump signed a sweeping defense policy bill into law on Tuesday that will allow the government to require recreational drone users to register their model aircraft. This comes after a federal court ruled in May that Americans no longer have to register non-commercial drones with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "because Congress had said in a previous law that the FAA can't regulate model aircraft," reports The Hill. From the report: In December 2015, the FAA issued an interim rule requiring drone hobbyists to register their recreational aircraft with the agency. The rule -- which had not been formally finalized -- requires model aircraft owners to provide their name, email address and physical address; pay a $5 registration fee; and display a unique drone ID number at all times. Those who fail to comply could face civil and criminal penalties. While Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones into the national airspace in a 2012 aviation law, lawmakers also included a special exemption to prevent model aircraft from being regulated. A D.C.-based appeals court cited the 2012 law in its ruling striking down the FAA drone registry, arguing that recreational drones count as model aircraft and that the registry counts as a rule or regulation.
Social Networks

Instagram Will Now Let You Follow Hashtags In Your Main Feed (theverge.com) 22

"Up until now, there were two ways to interact with a hashtag," reports The Verge. "You could click through a hashtag on a post, or you could search for a specific tag in the Explore section of the app." Today, Instagram is adding a new way to interact with a hashtag: the ability to follow hashtags so you can see top posts and Stories about a topic on your home page. From the report: You can now "follow" a hashtag the same way you would follow an account. Instagram's algorithms will then pick and choose some of the highlights from that collection and surface them in your main feed. It's a fundamental change to one of the largest social media platforms in the world, elevating your interest in adorable dogs or expensive automobiles to equal status with your friends and family. By contrast, the posts injected into my main feed based on the hashtags I chose to follow (#modernart, #bjj, #ancient) felt carefully curated. There is a lot of variety, even within those categories, but you can train the algorithm on what you do and don't like. Engage with the post by leaving a heart or a comment, and Instagram will assume you want more. Click the menu button on the top right of the post, and you can downvote the offending image by asking Instagram not to show you similar content for that hashtag again. After a few days of this, the art in my feed, both martial and modern, felt fine-tuned to my taste.

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