The Almighty Buck

Comcast Charges $90 Install Fee At Homes That Already Have Comcast Installed (arstechnica.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Based on our tests, signing up for standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires payment of a $59.99 or $89.99 installation fee, depending on where you live. (The fee was $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 at homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where the $60 or $90 fee is charged, the fee is required whether you purchase your own modem or rent one from Comcast for another $11 a month.

The installation fee might be charged even if the home you're buying service at has existing Comcast service, and even if you order Internet speeds lower than those purchased by the current occupant. That means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn't have to make any upgrades at the house or apartment you're moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as the fee may be charged whether you purchase 15Mbps downloads or gigabit service. You can avoid the installation fee by purchasing certain bundles that include both TV and Internet, but the fee is often mandatory if you buy only TV service or broadband individually. The $60 or $90 fee is also charged when you buy phone service only or a "double-play" package of phone service and broadband.

Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 85

Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

AI

AI Will Wipe Out Half the Banking Jobs In a Decade, Experts Say 111

Experts in the industry say that current advances in artificial intelligence and automation could replace as many as half the nation's financial services workers over the next decade, though it will take a big investment to make that happen. The Mercury News reports: "Unless banks deal with the performance issues that AI will cause for ultra-large databases, they will not be able to take the money gained by eliminating positions and spend it on the new services and products they will need in order to stay competitive," James D'Arezzo, CEO of Glendale-based Condusiv Technologies, said. Intensive hardware upgrades are often cited as an answer to the problem, but D'Arezzo said that's prohibitively expensive.

Speaking to an audience last year in Frankfurt, Germany, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan predicted a "bonfire" of industry jobs as automation moves forward. "In our bank we have people doing work like robots," he said. "Tomorrow we will have robots behaving like people. It doesn't matter if we as a bank will participate in these changes or not, it is going to happen." Increased processing power, cloud storage and other developments are making many tasks possible that once were considered too complex for automation, according to Cryan. D'Arezzo, whose company works to improve existing software performance, said the financial industry is being swamped by "a tsunami of data," including new compliance requirements for customer privacy and constantly changing bank regulations.
Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance and economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers a less bleak view of the future. "Technology will eliminate some jobs that are repetitive and require less human judgment," he said, "But I think they will get replaced by other jobs that humans are better at. Anything that requires judgment is something humans will continue to do. We are not good at multiplying 16-digit numbers, but we're good at judging people and detecting if someone is telling the truth."
GNOME

Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS 'Bionic Beaver' Beta 2 Now Available (betanews.com) 97

An anonymous reader writes: Ubuntu Linux 18.04 "Bionic Beaver" is almost here -- it is due on April 26. In the interim, today, the second -- and final -- beta becomes available. Bionic Beaver is very significant, as it is an LTS version, meaning "Long Term Support." This is important to those that prefer stability to bleeding edge and don't want to deal with the hassle of upgrades. In other words, you can install 18.04 and be confident that it will be supported for 5 years. In comparison, non-LTS Ubuntu versions get a mere 9 months.

There is plenty to be excited about with Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS 'Bionic Beaver' Beta 2, including the GNOME 3.28 desktop environment -- Beta 1 did not include GNOME at all. Of course, all the other DE flavors are available too, such as KDE and Xfce. The kernel is at 4.15, which while not the most current version, is still quite modern. Also included is LibreOffice 6.0 -- an essential tool that rivals Microsoft Office. Wayland is available as a technical preview, although X remains the default display server -- for now.

Operating Systems

Microsoft Will Bring 64-Bit App Support To ARM-Based PCs In May (engadget.com) 71

Microsoft's general manager for Windows, Erin Chappie, told Engadget today that an SDK for ARM64 apps will be announced at the upcoming Build developer's conference in May. From the report: With the new SDK, developers would be able to natively recompile their apps to run in 64-bit on ARM-based PCs like the ASUS NovaGo. This opens up app support for the platform, which previously only supported 32-bit apps. The potentially greater app compatibility is welcome, since this was one of the biggest drawbacks of Windows on Snapdragon devices. But whether you'll get the higher performance that you'd typically expect out of 64-bit apps will depend on the Snapdragon 835 CPU that powers the current generation of the PCs in question. Connected PCs ship with Windows 10 S, but Microsoft has been offering free upgrades to Windows 10 Pro through 2019, making the OS more familiar and versatile. The ARM 64 SDK will be available for both Store apps and desktop versions (.exes). Ultimately, it'll be up to developers to decide whether they want to go to the trouble of recompiling their apps for Windows on Snapdragon, but Microsoft at least appears to be making strides in creating as open and useful a platform as possible.
Chrome

Chrome Is Scanning Files on Your Computer, and People Are Freaking Out (vice.com) 213

Some cybersecurity experts and regular users were surprised to learn about a Chrome tool that scans Windows computers for malware. But there's no reason to freak out about it. From a report: Last year, Google announced some upgrades to Chrome, by far the world's most used browser -- and the one security pros often recommend. The company promised to make internet surfing on Windows computers even "cleaner" and "safer" adding what The Verge called "basic antivirus features." What Google did was improve something called Chrome Cleanup Tool for Windows users, using software from cybersecurity and antivirus company ESET.

[...] Last week, Kelly Shortridge, who works at cybersecurity startup SecurityScorecard, noticed that Chrome was scanning files in the Documents folder of her Windows computer. "In the current climate, it really shocked me that Google would so quietly roll out this feature without publicizing more detailed supporting documentation -- even just to preemptively ease speculation," Shortridge told me in an online chat. "Their intentions are clearly security-minded, but the lack of explicit consent and transparency seems to violate their own criteria of 'user-friendly software' that informs the policy for Chrome Cleanup [Tool]." Her tweet got a lot of attention and caused other people in the infosec community -- as well as average users such as me -- to scratch their heads.

Businesses

ESRB Introducing 'In-Game Purchases' Label in Response To Loot Box Controversy (polygon.com) 97

The Entertainment Software Rating Board will begin labeling video games that contain in-game purchases, a response to lawmakers who have noticed the outcry over so-called loot crate systems and have signaled a willingness to legislate them. From a report: The labeling will "be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency," the ESRB said in a news release this morning, "including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads)." The label will appear separate from the familiar ESRB rating label (T-for-Teen, M-for-Mature, etc.) and not inside it. Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.
Cellphones

Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Down For First Time Ever (theregister.co.uk) 77

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones have declined year-on-year for the first time since the research company started tracking the global smartphone market in 2004. "Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled nearly 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016," reports Gartner. The Register reports: In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones -- but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip. Several major factors caused the market shrinkage, said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed right down due to a lack of quality 'ultra-low-cost' smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales," Gupta added. This is a characteristic of the emerging markets, where all the action is -- not mature markets like the UK or USA. Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average -- Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.
Android

We've Reached Peak Smartphone (washingtonpost.com) 222

You don't really need a new smartphone. From a column on the Washington Post (may be paywalled): Sure, some of them squeeze more screen into a smaller form. The cameras keep getting better, if you look very close. And you had to live under a rock to miss the hoopla for Apple's 10th-anniversary iPhone X or the Samsung Galaxy S8. Many in the smartphone business were sure this latest crop would bring a "super cycle" of upgrades. But here's the reality: More and more of Americans have decided we don't need to upgrade every year. Or every other year. We're no longer locked into two-year contracts and phones are way sturdier than they used to be. And the new stuff just isn't that tantalizing even to me, a professional gadget guy. Holding onto our phones is better for our budgets, not to mention the environment. This just means we -- and phone makers -- need to start thinking of them more like cars. We may have reached peak smartphone. Global shipments slipped 0.1 percent in 2017 -- the first ever decline, according to research firm IDC. In the United States, smartphone shipments grew just 1.6 percent, the smallest increase ever. Back in 2015, Americans replaced their phones after 23.6 months, on average, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel. By the end of 2017, we were holding onto them for 25.3 months.
Transportation

Uber and Lyft Want You Banned From Using Your Own Self-Driving Car in Urban Areas (siliconbeat.com) 247

An anonymous reader quotes the Mercury News: The rabble can't be trusted with self-driving cars, and only companies operating fleets of them should be able to use them in dense urban areas. So say Uber and Lyft, as signatories to a new list of transportation goals developed by a group of international non-governmental organizations and titled "Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities"... According to Principle No. 10, "Shared fleets can provide more affordable access to all, maximize public safety and emissions benefits, ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals..."
It's stated reason is to "actualize the promise of reductions in vehicles, parking, and congestion, in line with broader policy trends to reduce the use of personal cars in dense urban areas." But others remain suspicious.

Gizmodo complains that the proposal "doesn't exactly sound like the freedom-filled future sci-fi writers have been promising, now does it?" and concludes that Uber and Lyft "have a hot new idea for screwing over city-dwellers."
Businesses

Apple: We Would Never Degrade the iPhone Experience To Get Users To Buy New Phones 282

Apple today responded to reports that the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission are probing its decision to throttle older iPhones, confirming that the U.S government has asked questions. From a report: Apple said it would never intentionally "degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades." Apple acknowledged in December that it was secretly slowing the speeds of iPhones in an effort to help preserve aging batteries. In response to consumer backlash, the company dropped the price of battery replacements for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus from $79 to $29.
Privacy

DuckDuckGo App and Extension Upgrades Offer Privacy 'Beyond the Search Box' (theverge.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: DuckDuckGo is launching updated versions of its browser extension and mobile app, with the promise of keeping internet users safe from snooping "beyond the search box." The company's flagship product, its privacy-focused search engine, will remain the same, but the revamped extension and app will offer new tools to help users keep their web-browsing as safe and private as possible. These include grade ratings for websites, factoring in their use of encryption and ad tracking networks, and offering summaries of their terms of service (with summaries provided by third-party Terms of Service Didn't Read). The app and extension are available for Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS, and Android.

The ability to block ad tracking networks is probably the most important feature here. These networks are used by companies like Google and Facebook to follow users around the web, stitching together their browsing history to create a more accurate profile for targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo calls it "a major step to simplify online privacy," adding that without it, "It's hard to use the Internet without it feeling a bit creepy -- like there's a nosey neighbor watching everything you do from across the street."
Businesses

To Combat Shortage, Nvidia Asks Retailers To Limit Graphics Card Orders (pcmag.com) 212

An anonymous reader writes: If you're a PC builder -- or your aging desktop system is in dire need of some modern upgrades -- you've probably wondered why it's impossible to get a graphics card lately. You can thank the outrageous interest in cryptocurrency for all of this. Since graphics cards mine cryptocurrency much faster than CPUs, an eager community of get-rich-quick enthusiasts are scooping up graphics cards as fast as they can get them. While there isn't much major manufacturers AMD and Nvidia can do about the overwhelming demand for GPUs, Nvidia is at least trying to let retailers know that they should be holding their stock for the company's core audience: gamers, not miners. "For NVIDIA, gamers come first. All activities related to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers' needs as usual," reads a translated statement Nvidia's Boris Bohles. Nvidia is suggesting that retailers limit graphics card orders to just two per person, but that's just an idea -- one Nvidia can't actually enforce beyond restricting sales on its website, which it's currently doing. Further reading: It's a terrible time to buy a graphics card.
Virtualization

VMware Bug Allowed Root Access (arstechnica.com) 33

c4231 quotes Ars Technica: While everyone was screaming about Meltdown and Spectre, another urgent security fix was already in progress for many corporate data centers and cloud providers who use products from Dell's EMC and VMware units. A trio of critical, newly reported vulnerabilities in EMC and VMware backup and recovery tools -- EMC Avamar, EMC NetWorker, EMC Integrated Data Protection Appliance, and vSphere Data Protection -- could allow an attacker to gain root access to the systems or to specific files, or inject malicious files into the server's file system. These problems can only be fixed with upgrades. While the EMC vulnerabilities were announced late last year, VMware only became aware of its vulnerability last week.
iMac

iMac Pro Teardown Highlights Modular RAM, CPU and SSD Along With Redesigned Internals (macrumors.com) 128

Popular repair site iFixit has acquired an iMac Pro and opened it up to see what's inside. They tore down the base iMac Pro with an 8-core processor, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. Mac Rumors reports the findings: iFixit found that the RAM, CPU, and SSDs in the iMac Pro are modular and can potentially be replaced following purchase, but most of the key components "require a full disassembly to replace." Standard 27-inch iMacs have a small hatch in the back that allows easy access to the RAM for post-purchase upgrades, but that's missing in the iMac Pro. Apple has said that iMac Pro owners will need to get RAM replaced at an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider. iFixit says that compared to the 5K 27-inch iMac, replacing the RAM in the iMac Pro is indeed "a major undertaking."

Apple is using standard 288-pin DDR4 ECC RAM sticks with standard chips, which iFixit was able to upgrade using its own $2,000 RAM upgrade kit. A CPU upgrade is "theoretically possible," but because Apple uses a custom-made Intel chip, it's not clear if an upgrade is actually feasible. The same goes for the SSDs -- they're modular and removable, but custom made by Apple. Unlike the CPU, the GPU is BGA-soldered into place and cannot be removed. The internals of the iMac Pro are "totally different" from other iMacs, which is unsurprising as Apple said it introduced a new thermal design to accommodate the Xeon-W processors and Radeon Pro Vega GPUs built into the machines. The new thermal design includes an "enormous" dual-fan cooler, what iFixit says is a "ginormous heat sink," and a "big rear vent."
Overall, iFixit gave the iMac Pro a repairability score of 3/10 since it's difficult to open and tough to get to internal components that might need to be repaired or replaced.
Android

Samsung's Galaxy S9 Will Appear At CES In January, Says Report (venturebeat.com) 41

According to VentureBeat, Samsung is planning to show off its next-generation Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some of the information about the devices will be shared at CES, but Samsung is still apparently holding an official launch event in March, as it did this past year for the Galaxy S8 and S8+. From the report: Codenamed Star 1 and Star 2 -- and going by model numbers SM-G960 and SM-G965 -- the S9 and S9+ will feature the same 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch curved-edge Super AMOLED "Infinity" displays, respectively, as their predecessors. While no specific processor was mentioned, it is said to employ 10-nanometer fabrication techniques, which is highly suggestive of the upcoming Snapdragon 845 from Qualcomm (and likely a similar Exynos model for some regions). Besides a bigger screen, the S9+ will reportedly offer more RAM (6GB versus 4GB) and a second rear camera, similar to the Note8. Both models pack 64GB of internal storage, supplemented by a microSD slot, and both leave the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack intact. Regardless of rear camera configuration, both phones orient the elements on the back of the device vertically -- with the fingerprint sensor on the bottom, in acknowledgement of one of the most frequent complaints about all three of Samsung's 2017 flagship handsets. Another change that's sure to be well-received is the addition of AKG stereo speakers. Finally, Samsung plans to introduce a backward-compatible DeX docking station that situates the phones flat and utilizes the screens as either a touchpad or a virtual keyboard.
IT

After Outrage, Logitech Gives Free Upgrade To Owners of Soon To Be Obsolete Device (gizmodo.com) 105

It looks like Logitech didn't anticipate the barrage of criticism it received after announcing this week that it would be intentionally bricking its Harmony Link hub next March. The company is now reversing course. Its Harmony Link will still die next summer, but if you own one, the company is happy to give you a free upgrade to the more recent Harmony Hub model. From a report: Originally, Logitech planned to only offer Harmony Link owners with active warranties free upgrades to its new Harmony Hub devices. But for people out of warranty -- possibly the majority of Harmony Link users, as the devices were last sold in 2015 -- they would just get a one-time, 35 percent discount on a new $100 Harmony Hub. However, after customer outrage, Logitech revised it plans and announced that the company will give every Harmony Link owner a new Hub for free. Additionally, users who had already used the coupon to purchase a new Hub will also be able to contact Logitech in order to obtain a refund for the difference in price. However, Logitech is still not planning to extend support for the Harmony Link. The company says, "We made the business decision to end the support and services of the Harmony Link when the encryption certificate expires in the spring of 2018 -- we would be acting irresponsibly by continuing the service knowing its potential/future vulnerability."
Open Source

Audacity 2.2.0 Released 103

Popular open-source audio editing software, Audacity, has received a significant update. The new version, dubbed Audacity 2.2.0, adds a range of features and options such as additional user interface themes, and the ability to customize themes for advanced users. It is also getting playback support for MIDI files, and better organised menus, the team wrote. You can find the complete changelog here.
Microsoft

Microsoft Quietly Announces End of Last Free Windows 10 Upgrade Offer (zdnet.com) 147

Ed Bott, writing for ZDNet: If you've been waiting to claim your free Windows 10 upgrade using the "assistive technologies" exception, you need to act soon. In a quiet change to an obscure web page, Microsoft announced this week that those exceptions will end on December 31, 2017. On July 29, 2016, Microsoft officially ended the Get Windows 10 program, which offered free Windows 10 upgrades to anyone currently running a supported earlier version of Windows. But the company left a giant loophole in a separate announcement at the same time. Under the terms of that announcement, individuals who use "assistive technologies" received an automatic extension of the free upgrade offer. Sometime in the past week, Microsoft quietly edited that page, to add "The accessibility upgrade offer expires on December 31, 2017."
Upgrades

Xbox One X is the Perfect Representation of the Tech Industry's Existential Crisis (mashable.com) 190

A reader shares commentary on the newly launched Xbox One X gaming console: Fundamentally, Xbox One X is the same machine that Microsoft released in 2013. It plays the same games, runs the same apps, depends on the same operating system. You can still plug your cable box into it and watch OneGuide magically sync with your local TV listings. Most of the things you can do look a little better and run a little faster/more efficiently, sure. The actual casing is smaller than the previous iterations, too. It's a gorgeous $500 machine. That's why I keep eyeballing it. My brain screams, "Why do you exist?" The Xbox One X does not answer. This is a familiar problem in 2017. Look around at all the tech in your life and do a quick, informal poll: How many of those items become outdated every year or every few years when a newer, shinier version of the same thing comes along? I'm talking about your iPhone and iPad. Your Amazon Echo and Kindle. Your Pixel and Daydream VR headset. Your Apple Watch. Your Roku, your Apple TV, your Chromecast. Incremental upgrades that push features like 4K! HDR! Wireless charging! Slimmer design! No headphone jack! (Wait, no, that last one is awful.) Breathless bullet point after breathless bullet point. Some of these additions have genuine utility and add value to the product. Many don't, or depend on you also possessing some other piece of incrementally upgraded tech (like the kinds of fancy-shmancy TVs that play the nicest with Xbox One X).

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