Google

CNBC: Google's New 'Pixel Buds' Suck (yahoo.com) 65

Google's new Pixel Buds "are really bad" and "not worth buying," according to CNBC's technology products editor: The stand-out feature of Google Pixel Buds is that they're supposed to be able to translate spoken languages in near real-time. In my real-world tests, however, that wasn't the case at all. I took the Pixel Buds out on the streets of Manhattan, speaking to a Hungarian waiter in Little Italy, multiple vendors in Chinatown and more. If you press the right earbud and say "help me speak Chinese," for example, the buds will launch Google Translate, you can speak what you'd like to ask someone in another language, and a voice will read out the translated speech through your smartphone's speakers. Then, when someone replies, you'll hear that response through the Pixel Buds.

The microphone on the Pixel Buds is really bad, so it barely picked up my voice queries that I wanted to translate. I stood on the side of the road in Chinatown repeating myself at least 10 times trying to get the phone to pick up my speech in order to begin translation. It barely worked, even if I took the buds out and spoke directly into the microphone on the right earbud, and often only translated half of what I was trying to ask. In a quiet place, I was able to allow someone to respond to me, after which I'd hear the English translation through the headphones. That was neat, but it barely ever actually worked that way. To mitigate this, I found it was just easier to manually open the Google translate app, speak into my phone's microphone, and then let someone else also speak right into my phone. This executed the translation nearly perfectly, and meant that I didn't need the Pixel Buds at all.

The article ends by answering the question, Should you buy them? "Nope. There's nothing I recommend about the Pixel Buds.

"They're cheap-feeling and uncomfortable, and you're better off using the Google Translate app on a phone instead of trying to fumble with the headphones while trying to translate a conversation. The idea is neat, but it just doesn't work well enough to recommend to anyone on any level."
The Courts

FOSS Community Criticizes SFLC over SFC Trademark War (lunduke.com) 61

Earlier this month Bruce Perens notified us that "the Software Freedom Law Center, a Linux-Foundation supported organization, has asked USPTO to cancel the trademark of the name of the Software Freedom Conservancy, an organization that assists and represents Free Software/Open Source developers." Now Slashdot reader curcuru -- director of the Apache Software Foundation -- writes: No matter how you look at it, this kind of lawsuit is a loss for software freedom and open source in general, since this kind of USPTO trademark petition (like a lawsuit) will tie up both organizations, leaving less time and funds to help FOSS projects. There's clearly more to the issue than the trademark issue; the many community members' blog posts make that clear.

GNOME executive director Neil McGovern
Apache Software Foundation director Shane Curcuru
Google security developer Matthew Garrett
Linux industry journalist Bryan Lunduke


The key point in this USPTO lawsuit is that the legal aspects aren't actually important. What's most important is the community reaction: since SFLC and Conservancy are both non-profits who help serve free software communities, it's the community perception of what organizations to look to for help that matters. SFLC's attempt to take away the Conservancy's very name doesn't look good for them.

Bryan Lunduke's video covers the whole case, including his investigation into the two organizations and their funding.

The Military

Massive US Military Social Media Spying Archive Left Wide Open In AWS S3 Buckets (theregister.co.uk) 81

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Three misconfigured AWS S3 buckets have been discovered wide open on the public internet containing "dozens of terabytes" of social media posts and similar pages -- all scraped from around the world by the U.S. military to identify and profile persons of interest. The archives were found by veteran security breach hunter UpGuard's Chris Vickery during a routine scan of open Amazon-hosted data silos, and these ones weren't exactly hidden. The buckets were named centcom-backup, centcom-archive, and pacom-archive. CENTCOM is the common abbreviation for the U.S. Central Command, which controls army operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. PACOM is the name for U.S. Pacific Command, covering the rest of southern Asia, China and Australasia.

"For the research I downloaded 400GB of samples but there were many terabytes of data up there," he said. "It's mainly compressed text files that can expand out by a factor of ten so there's dozens and dozens of terabytes out there and that's a conservative estimate." Just one of the buckets contained 1.8 billion social media posts automatically fetched over the past eight years up to today. It mainly contains postings made in central Asia, however Vickery noted that some of the material is taken from comments made by American citizens. The databases also reveal some interesting clues as to what this information is being used for. Documents make reference to the fact that the archive was collected as part of the U.S. government's Outpost program, which is a social media monitoring and influencing campaign designed to target overseas youths and steer them away from terrorism.

Music

Apple's HomePod Gets Delayed Until 2018 (theverge.com) 43

Apple has reportedly delayed the release of its HomePod smart speaker until 2018. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says that it needs more time to work on the device. "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "We'll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018." From the report: The speaker was originally set to be released in December. Priced at $349, the HomePod is slated to take on higher-end sound systems like Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The cylindrical speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, which puts it right on par spec-wise with the best speakers in its price range, but where it may fall short is Siri, which isn't really in the same class as Alexa or Google Assistant. That challenge is likely why Apple's focus at the launch of the HomePod back at WWDC in June was music first and smart features second.
Piracy

Hollywood Strikes Back Against Illegal Streaming Kodi Add-ons (engadget.com) 77

An anonymous reader shares a report: An anti-piracy alliance supported by many major US and UK movie studios, broadcasters and content providers has dealt a blow to the third-party Kodi add-on scene after it successfully forced a number of popular piracy-linked streaming tools offline. In what appears to be a coordinated crackdown, developers including jsergio123 and The_Alpha, who are responsible for the development and hosting of add-ons like urlresolver, metahandler, Bennu, DeathStreams and Sportie, confirmed that they will no longer maintain their Kodi creations and have immediately shut them down.
Education

Is American English Going To Take Over British English Completely? (scroll.in) 520

Paul Baker, writing for The Conversation: Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language -- after all, they originated it. But a Google search of the word "Americanisms" turns up claims that they are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so the argument goes, the homeland will soon be the 51st State as workers tell customers to "have a nice day" while "colour" will be spelt without a "u" and "pavements" will become "sidewalks." My research examined how both varieties of the language have been changing between the 1930s and the 2000s and the extent to which they are growing closer together or further apart. So do Brits have cause for concern? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, most of the easily noticeable features of British language are holding up. Take spelling, for example -- towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the "u" in "colour" and writing "centre" as "center." But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out. Automatic spell-checkers which can be set to different national varieties are likely to play a part in keeping the two varieties fairly distinct. [...] But when we start thinking of language more in terms of style than vocabulary or spelling, a different picture emerges. Some of the bigger trends in American English are moving towards a more compact and informal use of language. American sentences are on average one word shorter in 2006 than they were in 1931. Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words "do not" into the single "don't." They're getting rid of certain possessive structures, too -- so "the hand of the king" becomes the shorter "the king's hand." Another trend is to avoid passive structures such as "a paper was written," instead using the more active form, "I wrote a paper."
Businesses

Munich Council: To Hell With Linux, We're Going Full Windows in 2020 (theregister.co.uk) 544

The German city of Munich, which received much popularity back in the day when it first ditched Microsoft's services in favor of open-source software, has now agreed to stop using Linux and switch back to Windows. If the decision is ratified by the full council in two weeks, Windows 10 will start rolling out across the city in 2020. From a report: A coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives on the committee voted for the Windows migration last week, Social Democrat councillor Anne Hubner told The Register. Munich rose to fame in the open-source world for deciding to use Linux and LibreOffice to make the city independent from the claws of Microsoft. But the plan was never fully realised -- mail servers, for instance, eventually wound up migrating to Microsoft Exchange -- and in February the city council formally voted to end Linux migration and go back to Microsoft. Hubner said the city has struggled with LiMux adoption. "Users were unhappy and software essential for the public sector is mostly only available for Windows," she said. She estimated about half of the 800 or so total programs needed don't run on Linux and "many others need a lot of effort and workarounds." Hubner added, "in the past 15 years, much of our efforts were put into becoming independent from Microsoft," including spending "a lot of money looking for workarounds" but "those efforts eventually failed." A full council vote on Windows 10 2020 migration is set for November 23, Hubner said. However, the Social Democrats and Conservatives have a majority in the council, and the outcome is expected to be the same as in committee.
Bug

Researchers Run Unsigned Code on Intel ME By Exploiting USB Ports (thenextweb.com) 171

Slashdot user bongey writes: A pair of security researchers in Russia are claiming to have compromised the Intel Management Engine just using one of the computer's USB ports. The researchers gained access to a fully functional JTAG connection to Intel CSME via USB DCI. The claim is different from previous USB DCI JTAG examples from earlier this year. Full JTAG access to the ME would allow making permanent hidden changes to the machine.
"Getting into and hijacking the Management Engine means you can take full control of a box," reports the Register, "underneath and out of sight of whatever OS, hypervisor or antivirus is installed."

They add that "This powerful God-mode technology is barely documented," while The Next Web points out that USB ports are "a common attack vector."
AI

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."
Businesses

Uber Drivers Have Rights on Wages and Time Off, UK Panel Rules (apnews.com) 125

Uber suffered a blow on Friday to its operations in its biggest market outside the United States when a British panel ruled in London rejected the company's argument that its drivers were self employed. The decision, which affirmed a ruling made last year, means that Uber will have to ensure its drivers in Britain are paid a minimum wage and entitled to time off, casting doubt on a common hiring model in the so-called gig economy that relies on workers who do not have a formal contract as permanent employees. From a report: Judge Jennifer Eady rejected Uber's argument that the men were independent contractors, because the drivers had no opportunity to make their own agreements with passengers and the company required them to accept 80 percent of trip requests when they were on duty. The tribunal, Eady wrote in her decision, found "the drivers were integrated into the Uber business of providing transportation services." The ride-hailing service said it has never required drivers in the U.K. to accept 80 percent of the trips offered to them and that drivers make well above the minimum wage. Employment lawyers expect the case to be heard by higher courts as early as next year.
NASA

NASA: We're Not Building Flying Taxi Software For Uber (theregister.co.uk) 24

News outlets reported on Wednesday that Uber had signed a contract with NASA to develop software for the ride-hailing company's autonomous "flying taxis." A day later, the space agency has clarified its involvement in the project and the specifics of the contract. From the report: Uber's chief product officer Jeff Holden spoke at the Web Summit in Lisbon yesterday where he was promoting the fledgling autonomous taxi project, revealed last year, Uber Elevate. And of course he never claimed that NASA was working on software for his firm, merely explaining that it had inked an agreement to work with the public body on the latter's air traffic control project. Uber told us that while NASA was not "committing funding or anything like that", it said "having their decades of aeronautic experience actively collaborating with our engineers is a huge help for tackling the aviation traffic management hurdles." A NASA spokesperson, meanwhile, told us Uber had indeed signed what it described as a "generic Space Act Agreement" for participation in the programme back in January, joining a "multitude" of others. The project and its members are "researching prototype technologies for a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that could develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations," according to NASA's website. So no new news on the software front.
Open Source

Apache OpenOffice: We're OK With Not Being Super Cool (theregister.co.uk) 106

The Register's Thomas Claburn, interviews Jim Jagielski, Apache Software Foundation President and Apache OpenOffice project mentor. From the story: Despite being the subject of a deathwatch -- perhaps mainly by fans of rival LibreOffice -- AOO appears to be rather popular, with the 4.1.4 update racking up at least 1.6 million downloads. [...] While AOO and the ASF formulate a formal statement of direction for the project, Jagielski said more or less that all's well. "AOO is not, and isn't designed to be, the 'super coolest open source office suite with all the latest bells and whistles,'" Jagielski continued. "Our research shows that a 'basic,' functional office suite, which is streamlined with a 'simple' and uncluttered, uncomplicated UI, serves an incredible under-represented community. "Other office suites are focusing on the 'power user' which is a valuable market, for sure, but the real power and range for an open-source office suite alternative is the vast majority which is the 'rest of us. Sometimes we all forget how empowering open source is to the entire world."
Businesses

Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Apple's Secret Tax Bolthole (bbc.com) 174

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The world's most profitable firm has a secretive new structure that would enable it to continue avoiding billions in taxes, the Paradise Papers show. They reveal how Apple sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax practices by actively shopping around for a tax haven. It then moved the firm holding most of its untaxed offshore cash, now $252 billion, to the Channel Island of Jersey. Apple said the new structure had not lowered its taxes. It said it remained the world's largest taxpayer, paying about $35 billion in corporation tax over the past three years, that it had followed the law and its changes "did not reduce our tax payments in any country."

Leaked emails also make it clear that Apple wanted to keep the move secret. One email sent between senior partners at Appleby says: "For those of you who are not aware, Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity. They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know." Apple chose Jersey, a UK Crown dependency that makes its own tax laws and which has a 0% corporate tax rate for foreign companies. Paradise Papers documents show Apple's two key Irish subsidiaries, Apple Operations International (AOI), believed to hold most of Apple's massive $252 billion overseas cash hoard, and Apple Sales International (ASI), were managed from Appleby's office in Jersey from the start of 2015 until early 2016. This would have enabled Apple to continue avoiding billions in tax around the world.
The report notes that Apple paid just $1.65 billion in taxes to foreign governments, despite making $44.7 billion outside the U.S. That's a tax rate of 3.7%, which is less than a sixth of the average rate of corporation tax in the world.
Privacy

One in Four UK Workers Maliciously Leaks Business Data Via Email, Study Says (betanews.com) 30

From a report: New research into insider threats reveals that 24 percent of UK employees have deliberately shared confidential business information outside their company. The study from privacy and risk management specialist Egress Software Technologies also shows that almost half (46 percent) of respondents say they have received a panicked email recall request, which is not surprising given more than a third (37 percent) say they don't always check emails before sending them. The survey of 2,000 UK workers who regularly use email as part of their jobs shows the biggest human factor in sending emails in error is listed as 'rushing' (68 percent). However alcohol also plays a part in eight percent of all wrongly sent emails -- where are these people working!? Autofill technology, meanwhile, caused almost half (42 percent) to select the wrong recipient in the list.
Security

Hilton Paid a $700K Fine For 2015 Breach; Under GDPR, It Would Be $420 Million (digitalguardian.com) 110

chicksdaddy writes from a report via Digital Guardian: If you want to understand the ground shaking change that the EU's General Data Protection Rule (GDPR) will have when it comes into force in May of 2018, look no further than hotel giant Hilton Domestic Operating Company, Inc., formerly known as Hilton Worldwide, Inc (a.k.a. "Hilton."). On Tuesday, the New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman slapped a $700,000 fine on the hotel giant for two 2015 incidents in which the company was hacked, spilling credit card and other information for 350,000 customers. Schneiderman also punished Hilton for its response to the incident. The company first learned in February 2015 that its customer data had been exposed through a UK-based system belonging to the company, which was observed by a contractor communicating with "a suspicious computer outside Hilton's computer network." Still, it took Hilton until November 24, 2015 -- over nine months after the first intrusion was discovered -- to notify the public. That kind of lackluster response has become pretty typical among Fortune 500 companies (see also: Equifax). And why not? The $700,000 fine from the NY AG is a palatable $2 per lost record -- and a mere rounding error for Hilton, which reported revenues of $11.2 billion in 2015, the year of the breach. That means the $700,000 fine was just %.00006 of Hilton's annual revenue in the year of the breach. Schneiderman's fine was less "bringing down the hammer" than a butterfly kiss for Hilton's C-suite, board and shareholders.

But things are going to be different for Hilton and other companies like it come May 2018 when provisions of the EU's General Data Protection Rule (or GDPR) go into effect, as Digital Guardian points out on their blog. Under that new law, data "controllers" like Hilton (in other words: organizations that collect data on customers or employees) can be fined up to 4% of annual turnover in the year preceding the incident for failing to meet the law's charge to protect that data. What does that mean practically for a company like Hilton? Well, the company's FY 2014 revenue (or "turnover") was $10.5 billion. Four percent of that is a cool $420 million dollars -- or $1,200, rather than $2, for every customer record lost. Needless to say, that's a number that will get the attention of the company's Board of Directors and shareholders.

Piracy

Pirate TV Services Are Taking a Bite Out of Cable Company Revenue (arstechnica.co.uk) 132

TV piracy services are being used by about 6.5 percent of North American households with broadband access, potentially costing legitimate TV providers billions of dollars a year, a new analysis found. From a report: Pirate services that offer live TV channels are apparently responsible for more downstream traffic each night than torrent downloads. Based on these figures, there may be 7 million US and Canadian subscribers to pirate TV services that generally cost about $10 a month, the report by Sandvine said. That amounts to $840 million of revenue a year. We don't know how many people using pirate services would purchase a traditional cable or satellite TV package if the piracy option didn't exist. But if all of those people instead purchased a legal TV package for $50 per month, that would amount to another $4.2 billion revenue a year for North American pay-TV providers, the report said.
Earth

The Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Plunged Earth Into Catastrophic Winter (bbc.com) 103

The asteroid impact roughly 66 million years ago that wiped out three-quarters of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs, dropped temperatures globally below freezing for several years. The new assessment, reported in the journal Geographic Research Letters, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the climate catastrophe following the event. BCC reports: The UK geophysicist was the co-lead investigator on the 2016 project to drill into what remains of the impactor's crater under the Gulf of Mexico. She and colleagues spent several weeks retrieving the rock samples that would allow them to reconstruct precisely how the Earth reacted to being punched by a high-velocity space object. Their study suggests the asteroid approached the surface from the north-east, striking what was then a shallow sea at an oblique angle of 60 degrees. Roughly 12km wide and moving at about 18km/s, the stony impactor instantly excavated and vaporized thousands of billions of tonnes of rock. This material included a lot of sulphur-containing minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite, but also carbonates which yielded carbon dioxide. The team's calculations estimate the quantities ejected upwards at high speed into the upper atmosphere included 325 gigatones of sulphur (give or take 130Gt) and perhaps 425Gt of carbon dioxide (plus or minus 160Gt). The CO2 would eventually have a longer-term warming effect, but the release of so much sulphur, combined with soot and dust, would have had an immediate and very severe cooling effect.
Programming

Perl is the Most Hated Programming Language, Developers Say (theregister.co.uk) 472

Thomas Claburn, writing for The Register: Developers really dislike Perl, and projects associated with Microsoft, at least among those who volunteer their views through Stack Overflow. The community coding site offers programmers a way to document their technical affinities on their developer story profile pages. Included therein is an input box for tech they'd prefer to avoid. For developers who have chosen to provide testaments of loathing, Perl tops the list of disliked programming languages, followed by Delphi and VBA. The yardstick here consists of the ratio of "likes" and "dislikes" listed in developer story profiles; to merit chart position, the topic or tag in question had to show up in at least 2,000 stories. Further down the down the list of unloved programming language comes PHP, Objective-C, CoffeeScript, and Ruby. In a blog post seen by The Register ahead of its publication today, Stack Overflow data scientist David Robinson said usually there's a relationship between how fast a particular tag is growing and how often it's disliked. "Almost everything disliked by more than 3 per cent of Stories mentioning it is shrinking in Stack Overflow traffic (except for the quite polarizing VBA, which is steady or slightly growing)," said Robinson. "And the least-disliked tags -- R, Rust, TypeScript and Kotlin -- are all among the fast-growing tags (TypeScript and Kotlin growing so quickly they had to be truncated in the plot)."
The Internet

Russia's Anti-VPN Law Goes Into Effect (theregister.co.uk) 185

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: A Russian law that bans the use or provision of virtual private networks (VPNs) will come into effect Wednesday. The legislation will require ISPs to block websites that offer VPNs and similar proxy services that are used by millions of Russians to circumvent state-imposed internet censorship. It was signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 29 and was justified as a necessary measure to prevent the spread of extremism online. Its real impact, however, will be to make it much harder for ordinary Russians to access websites ISPs are instructed to block connections to by Russian regulator Roskomnadzor, aka the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. The law is just one part of a concerted effort by the Russian government to restrict access to information online. While Russia does not appear to be going the same route as China -- which has a country wide, constantly maintained censorship apparatus, known as the Great Firewall of China -- it is clearly following its lead. At the same time as Putin signed the VPN legislation, he signed another that will come into effect in January. That law, like a similar one passed by the Chinese government earlier this year, will require operators of messaging services to verify their users' identities through phone numbers. And it will require operators to introduce systems to cut off any users that are deemed by the Russian government to be spreading illegal content.
AI

Seagate's New 'SkyHawk AI' Disk Drive Is Just a Slightly Higher Speced Version of Its Predecessor (theregister.co.uk) 57

ourlovecanlastforeve shares a report from The Register, where Chris Mellor takes a look at Seagate's recently launched "SkyHawk" and "SkyHawk AI" HDDs. After closer inspection, Mellor concludes that the "AI" variant has a more buzz-worthy name and "slightly higher numbers on the specs" than its "SkyHawk" brethren. From the report: Seagate has bolted "AI" to its SkyHawk disk drive brand, saying it's better suited for next-generation deep learning and video analytics. The marketing department breathlessly describes it as "the first drive created specifically for artificial intelligence (AI) enabled video surveillance solutions." Sai Varanasi, VP product line management, burbled in the same fashion: "We are excited to introduce smart, purpose-built SkyHawk AI solutions that expand the design space for our customers and partners, allowing them to implement next-generation deep learning and video analytics applications." How so? Seagate says the new drive's "high throughput and enhanced caching deliver low latency and excellent random read performance to quickly locate and deliver video images and footage analysis." Both SkyHawk and SkyHawk AI have a 256MB cache buffer and 4.16ms average latency. Where it does differ from SkyHawk is having a higher 550TB/year workload and 2 million hours mean-time-before-failure rating, compared to 180TB/year and a million hours. It's been given a five-year limited warranty and a two-year Seagate Rescue Services contract is included with the drive. In other words the SkyHawk AI is more robust than the standard SkyHawk and transfers data 1.9 per cent faster. Otherwise it seems identical.

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