mrspoonsi writes "BBC reports: Leading global technology firms have called for 'wide-scale changes' to US government surveillance. Eight firms, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, have formed an alliance called Reform Government Surveillance group. The group has written a letter to the US President and Congress arguing that current surveillance practice 'undermines the freedom' of people. It comes after recent leaks detailed the extent of surveillance programs. 'We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,' the group said in an open letter published on its website."
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An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered huge freshwater reserves beneath the seabed on continental shelves off the coast of Australia, North America, China and South Africa. 'The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900. Fresh water on our planet is increasingly under stress and strain so the discovery of significant new stores off the coast is very exciting. It means that more options can be considered to help reduce the impact of droughts and continental water shortages' says Dr Vincent Post of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University."
theodp writes "The weeklong Hour of Code kicks off tomorrow, with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates doing their part to address a declared nationwide CS crisis by ostensibly teaching the nation's schoolchildren how to code. But a recent NY Times Op-Ed by economist Paul Collier criticizing Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC as self-serving advocacy (echoing earlier criticism) serves as a reminder that Zuckerberg and Gates' Code.org and Hour of Code involvement is the Yin to their H-1B visa lobbying Yang. The two efforts have been inextricably linked together for Congress, if not for the public. And while Zuckerberg argues it's 'the right thing to do', Collier argues that there are also downsides to the tech giants' plans to shift more bright, young, enterprising people from the poorest countries to the richest. 'An open door for the talented would help Facebook's bottom line,' Collier concludes, 'but not the bottom billion.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post that morale has taken a hit at the National Security Agency in the wake of controversy over the agency's surveillance activities and officials are dismayed that President Obama has not visited the agency to show his support. 'It is not clear whether or when Obama might travel the 23 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to visit Fort Meade, the NSA's headquarters in Maryland,' writes Nakashima, 'but agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive as White House ambivalence amid the pounding the agency has taken from critics.' Though Obama has asserted that the NSA's collection of virtually all Americans' phone records is lawful and has saved lives, the administration has not endorsed legislation that would codify it. And his recent statements suggest Obama thinks some of the NSA's activities should be constrained. 'The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions,' says Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006. 'They feel they've been hung out to dry, and they're right.' Former officials note how President George W. Bush paid a visit to the NSA in January 2006, in the wake of revelations by the New York Times that the agency engaged in a counterterrorism program of warrantless surveillance on U.S. soil beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 'Bush came out and spoke to the workforce, and the effect on morale was tremendous,' Brenner said. 'There's been nothing like that from this White House.' Morale is 'bad overall' says another former NSA official. 'It's become very public and very personal. Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'"
First time accepted submitter prajendran writes "James Hansen, the former director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, has been a strong defender of using nuclear energy to replace coal and renewable energy. He and three other researchers had written a letter, arguing just this. In this interview with rediff.com, an Indian news site, he was asked to address some concerns surrounding the issue, especially given the strong feelings generated by it. It may not be Hansen's best interview, but it did bring out his passionate side."
Fnord666 writes in with this link about one the development of a new unmanned toy for the U.S. Air Force. "A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying—and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015. Funded through the Air Force's classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998."
First time accepted submitter biodata writes "The BBC is reporting that hundreds of UK commercial air flights have been delayed for most of Saturday due to an internal telephone systems problem in the National Air Traffic Control Service, and delays are likely to continue into the evening. A spokesperson said that it was a different software bug from the one which grounded flights in the summer."
the agent man writes "The Hour of Code event taking place December 9-15 has produced a number of tutorials with the goal to excite 10 millions kids to code. It's really interesting to contrast the different pedagogical approaches behind the roughly 30 tutorials. The University of Colorado's 'Make a 3D Game' tutorial wants to excite kids to code by focusing less on coding. This pedagogy is based on the idea that coding alone, without non-coding creativity, has a hard time attracting kids who are skeptical of computer science, including a high percentage of girls who think 'programming is hard and boring.' Instead, the 'Make a 3D Game' activity has the kids create sharable 3D shapes and 3D worlds in their browsers, which they then want to bring to life — through coding. There is evidence that this strategy works. The article talks about the research exploring how kids get excited through game design, and how they can later leverage coding skills acquired to make science simulations. You can try the activity by yourself or with your kids, if you're curious."
New submitter krakman writes "The Washington Post has an interesting story about how the FBI can investigate and collect details from computers over the net, without knowing anything about the computer location. Here's an example of the FBI's network investigative techniques: 'The man who called himself "Mo" had dark hair, a foreign accent and — if the pictures he e-mailed to federal investigators could be believed — an Iranian military uniform. When he made a series of threats to detonate bombs at universities and airports across a wide swath of the United States last year, police had to scramble every time. Mo remained elusive for months, communicating via e-mail, video chat and an Internet-based phone service without revealing his true identity or location, court documents show. ... The FBI’s elite hacker team designed a piece of malicious software that was to be delivered secretly when Mo signed on to his Yahoo e-mail account, from any computer anywhere in the world, according to the documents. The goal of the software was to gather a range of information — Web sites he had visited and indicators of the location of the computer — that would allow investigators to find Mo and tie him to the bomb threats. ... Even though investigators suspected that Mo was in Iran, the uncertainty around his identity and location complicated the case. Had he turned out to be a U.S. citizen or a foreigner living within the country, a search conducted without a warrant could have jeopardized his prosecution. ...But, [a court document] said, Mo’s computer did send a request for information to the FBI computer, revealing two new IP addresses in the process. Both suggested that, as of last December, Mo was still in Tehran.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Michael Nielsen has written a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'" Bitcoin is going through another period of heavy fluctuation: it fell from a high of around $1,200 per bitcoin to roughly half that, and as of this writing trade around $760 per bitcoin.
theodp writes "Among the patents granted to Facebook this week by the USPTO is one for Inferring Household Income for Users of a Social Networking System. 'For example,' Facebook explains, 'an assumption might be made about a user that reads CNN.com and nytimes.com every day that the user is in a higher income bracket than another user that only reads TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com on the theory that a user who reads newspapers might be assumed to make more money than a user who only reads celebrity gossip blogs.' Advertisements such as those for travel packages, cars, and home mortgages, Facebook adds, 'are targeted to users based on income bracket,' which might also be inferred by 'gathering and analyzing different types of information about a user's geographic location.' Hey, what could go wrong?"
itwbennett writes "An estimated one in four user applications sent from HealthCare.gov to insurance providers have errors introduced by the website, an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said during a press briefing Friday. The errors include missing forms, duplicate forms and incorrect information in the applications, such as wrong information about an applicant's marital status, said Julie Bataille, communications director for HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). While the software bugs leading to the errors have largely been fixed, as many as 10 percent of insurance applications may still have errors and consumers who have used HealthCare.gov to buy insurance and have concerns that their applications haven't been processed or have errors should contact their insurers, Bataille said."
First time accepted submitter cs80 writes "I've been looking high and low for a decent, open-source, cross-platform audio player that can import an existing iTunes library and sort my files based on their ID3 tags. Nightingale, with its iTunes-like interface, would have been the obvious answer, but its file organization feature was pulled for being too buggy. What open-source audio player did you migrate to after dumping iTunes?"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "MarineLink reports that a fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) aircraft has been successfully launched from the submerged 'USS Providence' (SSN 719). The drone flew a several-hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to the submarine, offering a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy's submarine force. 'Developing disruptive technologies and quickly getting them into the hands of our sailors is what our SwampWorks program is all about,' says Craig A. Hughes, Acting Director of Innovation at the Office of Naval Research. 'This demonstration really underpins ONR's dedication and ability to address emerging fleet priorities.' The XFC UAS — eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System — was fired from the submarine's torpedo tube using a 'Sea Robin' launch vehicle system designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister (TLC) used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles already familiar to submarine sailors. Once deployed from the TLC, the Sea Robin launch vehicle with integrated XFC rose to the ocean surface, where it appeared as a spar buoy. Upon command of Providence's Commanding Officer, the XFC then vertically launched from Sea Robin and flew a successful mission."
New submitter rvalles writes "Xiph.org just released a major update to their Opus audio codec. Opus 1.1 offers major improvements over last year's 1.0.2 release. Opus is a general-purpose, very flexible, open and royalty-free audio codec that offers low-latency and high quality/bitrate, incorporating technology from Skype's SILK codec and Xiph.Org's CELT codec. Its first release beat everything else last year at 64kbit/s in a listening test held at HydrogenAudio."
walterbyrd writes "Streaming services are ailing. Pandora, the giant of its class and the survivor at 13 years old, is waging an ugly war to pay artists and labels less in order to stay afloat. Spotify, in spite of 6 million paid users and 18 million subscribers who humor some ads in their stream, has yet to turn a profit. Rhapsody axed 15% of its workforce right as Apple's iTunes Radio hit the scene. On-demand competitor Rdio just opted for layoffs too, in order to move into a 'scalable business model.' Did no one wonder about that business-model bit in the beginning? Meanwhile, Turntable.fm, a comparatively tiny competitor with what should have been viral DNA, just pulled the plug on its virtual jam sessions this week—and it just might be the canary in the coal mine."
An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft announced yesterday their plans to encrypt customer data to prevent government snooping. Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan questions the logic of trusting non-free software, regardless of promises or even intent. He says, 'Microsoft has made renewed security promises before. In the end, these promises are meaningless. Proprietary software like Windows is fundamentally insecure not because of Microsoft's privacy policies but because its code is hidden from the very users whose interests it is supposed to secure. A lock on your own house to which you do not have the master key is not a security system, it is a jail. ... If the NSA revelations have taught us anything, it is that journalists, governments, schools, advocacy organizations, companies, and individuals, must be using operating systems whose code can be reviewed and modified without Microsoft or any other third party's blessing. When we don't have that, back doors and privacy violations are inevitable.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Josh Gerstein writes on Politico that President Barack Obama told Chris Matthews in an interview recorded for MSNBC's 'Hardball' that he'll be reining in some of the snooping conducted by the NSA, but he did not detail what new limits he plans to impose on the embattled spy organization. 'I'll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA. And...to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence,' said the President who insisted that the NSA's work shows respect for the rights of Americans, while conceding that its activities are often more intrusive when it comes to foreigners communicating overseas. 'The NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people's emails, not listening to the contents of their phone calls. Outside of our borders, the NSA's more aggressive. It's not constrained by laws.' During the program, Matthews raised the surveillance issue by noting a Washington Post report on NSA gathering of location data on billion of cell phones overseas. 'Young people, rightly, are sensitive to the needs to preserve their privacy and to retain internet freedom. And by the way, so am I,' responded the President. 'That's part of not just our First Amendment rights and expectations in this country, but it's particularly something that young people care about, because they spend so much time texting and-- you know, Instagramming.' With some at the NSA feeling hung out to dry by the president, Obama also went out of his way to praise the agency's personnel for their discretion. 'I want to everybody to be clear: the people at the NSA, generally, are looking out for the safety of the American people. They are not interested in reading your emails. They're not interested in reading your text messages. And that's not something that's done. And we've got a big system of checks and balances, including the courts and Congress, who have the capacity to prevent that from happening.'"
Nerval's Lobster writes "Bank of America has issued a research report suggesting that the crypto-currency Bitcoin could become 'a major means of payment for e-commerce' on its way to emerging as 'a serious competitor to traditional money transfer providers.' The bank attaches a 'maximum market capitalization' of Bitcoin at roughly $1,300, based on its position as a 'major player in both e-commerce and money transfer' as well as 'a significant store of value with a reputation close to silver.' Bitcoin has come close to exceeding that theoretical ceiling in recent weeks, although its valuation dove today after the People's Bank of China decided to declare it a volatile 'currency' without real legal status; that financial institution is also concerned about its use in money laundering and black markets. Bank of America sees Bitcoins' advantages as low transaction costs, its finite supply (which will protect its value), and its increasing attractiveness as an alternative to 'traditional' cash. As with the People's Bank of China, however, the bank sees the currency's extreme volatility and lack of legal backing as a bad thing, and frowns at the possibility that regulators could step in and increase transaction costs. 'A 50 minute wait before payment receipt confirmation is received will prohibit wider use,' the report adds. 'This is less of an issue for two parties that know each other because they trust the other will not double spend, but when dealing with an anonymous counterparty this creates a high level of unhedgeable risk.' Without a 'central counterparty' to verify transactions and thus mitigate that risk, Bitcoin could fail to break into wider use."
itwbennett writes "Broadcom Chairman and CTO Henry Samueli has some bad news for you: Moore's Law isn't making chips cheaper anymore because it now requires complicated manufacturing techniques that are so expensive they cancel out the cost savings. Instead of getting more speed, less power consumption and lower cost with each generation, chip makers now have to choose two out of three, Samueli said. He pointed to new techniques such as High-K Metal Gate and FinFET, which have been used in recent years to achieve new so-called process nodes. The most advanced process node on the market, defined by the size of the features on a chip, is due to reach 14 nanometers next year. At levels like that, chip makers need more than traditional manufacturing techniques to achieve the high density, Samueli said. The more dense chips get, the more expensive it will be to make them, he said."