The Almighty Buck

Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine? ( 44

dmoberhaus writes: In 1974, Stephen Hawking made a bet with Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist Kip Thorne about a black hole. The wager was a subscription to the softcore porn magazine Penthouse for Thorne or a subscription to "Private Eye" (basically the British equivalent of The Onion) for Hawking. Hawking ultimately lost the bet, but did he ever pay up? Motherboard dug around to find out if Hawking settled this infamous bet.

Motherboard's Daniel Oberhaus wasn't able to get ahold of Thorne, but did manage to track down a copy of the obscure 1997 straight-to-VHS documentary called Black Holes, which is the only evidence that the wager even happened. "In 1990, Stephen Hawking happened to be visiting Los Angeles and he broke into my office and thumb printed off on this bet," Thorne recalls in the video. Oberhaus writes: "Although the status of Cygnus X-1 was an open question in the 70s, by the 90s mounting evidence had forced Hawking to concede the wager. The bet was recorded in a handwritten note scrawled on a piece of card which is shown in the film. It read: 'Whereas Stephen Hawking has a large investment in general relativity and black holes and desires an insurance policy, and whereas Kip Thorne likes to live dangerously without an insurance policy, therefore be it resolved that Stephen Hawking bets 1 year's subscription to 'Penthouse' as against Kip Thorne's wager of a 4-year subscription to 'Private Eye,' that Cygnus X-1 does not contain a black hole of mass above the Chandrasekhar limit.' 'I had given Thorne a subscription to Penthouse, much to his wife's disgust,' a smiling Hawking says in the film."


There Are Still 100,000 Pay Phones In the US ( 71

According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States, and about a fifth of those are in New York. The number has decreased rapidly over the last couple decades as cellphones have been adopted by 95% of Americans. CNN reports of how these remaining pay phones still remain a steady business for some of the 1,100 companies operating them across the country: Pay phone providers reported $286 million in revenue in 2015, according to the most recent FCC report. They can still be profitable, particularly in places where there isn't cell phone or landline coverage, said Tom Keane, president of Pacific Telemanagement Services. Keane's company operates 20,000 pay phones around the country. "We have phones in Yosemite Valley that are extremely busy when there's not snow on the ground," he said. Victor Rollo said he is still making money off his 170 phones in the San Diego area. Rollo declined to say how much, but he believes pay phones are a lifeline for people who don't have other options and are valuable during emergencies or natural disasters. Rollo says he evaluates how many calls are made on the phones every month, how far away they are from each other, and how much his expenses are per month to determine whether to keep them in the ground. Phones in hospitals and along the border, where cell coverage is weak, are some of his most profitable ones.

Amazon Considers Buying Some Toys R Us Stores ( 48

According to Bloomberg, Amazon has looked at the possibility of expanding its retail footprint by acquiring some locations from bankrupt Toys R Us. "The online giant isn't interested in maintaining the Toys R Us brand, but has considered using the soon-to-be-vacant spaces for its own purposes," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Such a move would let Amazon quickly expand its brick-and-mortar presence, coming on the heels of buying Whole Foods and its more than 450 locations last year. The Seattle-based company also has opened its own line of bookstores and a convenience-store concept. Additional stores would give Amazon space to showcase its popular Echo line of devices, which run on the Alexa voice-activated platform. Amazon sees voice as the next interface for people to access technology -- supplanting computer mouses and touch screens -- and the benefits may be easier to demonstrate in a real-world setting. A bigger network of stores would put inventory closer to where shoppers live, potentially enabling quick delivery to e-commerce customers. The space could also serve as a staging ground for grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores. Amazon is already planning to roll out free two-hour service to Whole Foods customers in four cities, including Dallas and Cincinnati.

Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company ( 24

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.

Mark Zuckerberg AWOL From Facebook's Data Leak Damage Control Session ( 140

An anonymous reader writes: It's not just that he's silent in public. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg declined to face his employees on Tuesday to explain the company's role in a widening international scandal over the 2016 election. Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-and-answer session about Facebook's role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. But Zuckerberg himself wasn't there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform. Further reading: Where in the world is Mark Zuckerberg? Frustrated Facebook execs are asking.

African Manufacturing Jobs Could be Threatened by US Based Robots, Report Says ( 78

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns. From the report: Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies. Some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, however the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests otherwise. But its report adds African nations have time to prepare for the change. "African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation," said Karishma Banga a senior research officer at ODI. "If done well, automation can present important opportunities for African countries by improving labour productivity in manufacturing," she said. It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.

Google Launches a News Initiative To Fight False News and Help Publishers Make Money ( 95

Google is launching the Google News Initiative, a journalism-focused program that will help publishers earn revenue and combat fake news. From a report: The initiative, announced Tuesday, will offer publications another monetization model online called Subscribe with Google, as well as work with established universities and groups to combat misinformation. It will also introduce an open-source tool called Outline, which will make it easier for news organizations to set up secure access to the internet for their journalists. Google said it was committing $300 million over the next three years to the project, though it did not elaborate on how the resources would be spent.

The company said it paid $12.6 billion to news organizations and drove 10 billion clicks a month to their websites for free last year. Subscribe with Google will make it easier for readers to pay for content from news organizations that have agreed to partner with the company., The Washington Post, and McClatchy Company publications including the Miami Herald are among the 17 launch partners.


New York Power Companies Can Now Charge Bitcoin Miners More ( 119

Last Wednesday, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) ruled that municipal power companies could charge higher electricity rates to cryptocurrency miners who try to benefit from the state's abundance of cheap hydroelectric power. Ars Technica reports: Over the years, Bitcoin's soaring price has drawn entrepreneurs to mining. Bitcoin mining enterprises have become massive endeavors, consuming megawatts of power on some grids. To minimize the cost of that considerable power draw, mining companies have tried to site their operations in towns with cheap electricity, both in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., regions with the cheapest energy tend to be small towns with hydroelectric power. But mining booms in small U.S. towns are not always met with approval. A group of 36 municipal power authorities in northern and western New York petitioned the PSC for permission to raise electricity rates for cryptocurrency miners because their excessive power use has been taxing very small local grids and causing rates to rise for other customers. The PSC responded on Wednesday that it would allow those local power companies to raise rates for cryptocurrency miners. The response noted that New York's local power companies, which are customer-owned and range in size from 1.5 MW to 122 MW, "acquire low-cost power, typically hydro, and distribute the power to customers at no profit." If a community consumes more than what has been acquired, cost increases are passed on to all customers. "In Plattsburgh, for example, monthly bills for average residential customers increased nearly $10 in January because of the two cryptocurrency companies operating there," the PSC document says. The city of Plattsburgh, New York has since imposed an 18-month moratorium on commercial cryptocurrency mining to "protect and enhance the city's natural, historic, cultural and electrical resources."
The Almighty Buck

Google Makes Push To Turn Product Searches Into Cash ( 65

Reuters reports of how Google is working to turn product searches into cash by partnering with some of the largest retailers in the United States: Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices. In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms. The listings will appear under sponsored shopping results and will not affect regular search results on Google, the company said. Google's pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers' purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Amazon. Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search -- the next frontier for e-commerce. The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google's observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking "Where can I buy this?" "Where can I find it?" "How can I buy it?" "How do I transact?" Daniel Alegre, Google's president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.
The Almighty Buck

Ask Slashdot: Should You Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Make? 326

An anonymous reader writes: Asking someone how much money they make is often -- if not always? -- considered impolite. But over the years, there has been a movement in toward more salary transparency. Some say salary transparency can make workplaces more equitable by helping to eliminate the gender and racial pay gaps. Even in companies that haven't decided to officially make all salaries open, some employees are taking matters into their own hands and sharing their pay rate with their coworkers. What's your take on this?

Trump Bans Venezuela's New National Cryptocurrency ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday banning any transactions within the United States involving any digital currency issued by, for, or on behalf of the Government of Venezuela. The order applies to U.S. citizens as well as anyone within the United States, and includes cryptocurrency issued on or after January 9. President Trump's order is in response to recent attempts by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime to "circumvent U.S. sanctions by issuing a digital currency," the White House said in a statement. Venezuela launched its oil-backed cryptocurrency in February to help pull the country out of a continuing economic crisis. President Maduro said each petro token will be backed by one barrel of the state's national petroleum. Maduro also said roughly 100 million tokens would be issued -- estimated to be worth around $6 billion. Bitcoin prices dropped about $200 to around $8,388, according to Coinbase, following the order.

The Struggle to Build a Massive 'Biobank' of Patient Data ( 47

An anonymous reader shares a report: This spring, the National Institutes of Health will start recruiting participants for one of the most ambitious medical projects ever envisioned. The goal is to find one million people in the United States, from all walks of life and all racial and ethnic groups, who are willing to have their genomes sequenced, and to provide their medical records and regular blood samples. They may choose to wear devices that continuously monitor physical activity, perhaps even devices not yet developed that will track heart rate and blood pressure. They will fill out surveys about what they eat and how much. If all goes well, experts say, the result will be a trove of health information like nothing the world has seen. The project, called the All of Us Research Program, should provide new insights into who gets sick and why, and how to prevent and treat chronic diseases.

The All of Us program joins a wave of similar efforts to construct gigantic "biobanks" by, among others, the Department of Veterans Affairs, a British collaboration and private companies like Geisinger Health Systems and Kaiser Permanente. But All of Us is the only one that attempts to capture a huge sample that is representative of the United States population. "It will be transformative," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. It will also be expensive. In 2017 alone, the budget for All of Us was $230 million, of which $40 million came from the 21st Century Cures Act. Congress has authorized an astounding $1.455 billion over 10 years for the project.

While supporters say the results will be well worth the money and effort, others have begun to question whether All of Us is just too ambitious, too loaded with cumbersome bureaucracy -- and too duplicative of smaller programs that are moving much more quickly. In the three years since the All of Us program was announced, not a single person's DNA has been sequenced. Instead, project leaders have signed up more than 17,000 volunteers as "beta testers" in a pilot phase of the program. They supplied blood and urine samples, had measurements taken, and filled out surveys.

United States

The Ordinary Engineering Behind the Horrifying Florida Bridge Collapse ( 271

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WIRED: The people of Sweetwater, Florida were supposed to wait until early 2019 for the Florida International University-Sweetwater University City Bridge to open. Instead, they will wait about that long for an official assessment from the National Transportation Safety Board of why it collapsed just five days after its installation, killing at least six people. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, many queries have centered on the unconventional technique used to build the bridge, something called Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC. But ABC is more complicated than its acronym suggests -- and it's hardly brand new. ABC refers to dozens of construction methods, but at its core, it's about drastically reducing on-site construction time. Mostly, that relies on pre-fabricating things like concrete decks, abutments, walls, barriers, and concrete topped steel girders, and hauling them to the work site. There, cranes or specialized vehicles known as Self-Propelled Modular Transporter install them. A video posted online by Florida International University, which helped fund the bridge connects to its campus, showed an SPMT lifting and then lowering the span into place.

In a now-deleted press release, the university called the "largest pedestrian bridge moved via SPMT in U.S. history," but that doesn't seem to mean much, engineering-wise. SPMTs have been around since the 1970s, and have moved much heavier loads. In 2017, workers used a 600-axle SPMT to salvage the 17,000 ton ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014. The ABC technique is much more expensive than building things in place, but cities and places like FIU like it for a specific reason: Because most of the work happens far away, traffic goes mostly unperturbed. When years- or months-long construction projects can have serious effects on businesses and homes, governments might make up the money in the long run. Workers installed this collapsed span in just a few hours. These accelerated techniques are also much safer for workers, who do most their work well away from active roads.
The report goes on to note that the bridge collapse is still under investigation and the search for a culprit is ongoing. "The answers could run the gamut, from design flaws to fabrication flubs to installation issues," reports WIRED. As of publication, The Washington Post is reporting that an engineer called the state to report cracking two days before its collapse.

Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars ( 181

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.

The Courts

Man Fined For Implanting NFC Train Ticket In Hand ( 106

Unhappy Windows User writes: An Australian man, when checked by a ticket inspector, claimed his smart travel card was implanted in his hand. He took the case to court and lost; the fine and legal fees add up to AU$1220 (USD $950). The man, who self-identifies as a biohacker and is a member of the Science Party, accepts the ruling but states that it won't discourage him from further biohacking. He claimed he was ahead of the law. The prosecution argued that, by cutting the chip out of the card, the ticket was invalidated. It is not clear from the article whether the NFC chip was working correctly and could be read by the inspector, or not. Further reading: BuzzFeed News

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) ( 109

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.

Largest US Radio Company iHeartMedia Files For Bankruptcy ( 159

The largest U.S. radio station owner, iHeartMedia, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it "struggles with $20 billion in debt and falling revenue at its 858 radio stations," reports Reuters. The company has reportedly reached an agreement with holders of more than $10 billion of its outstanding debt for a balance sheet restructuring, which will reduce its debt by more than $10 billion. From the report: Cash on hand and cash generated from ongoing operations will be sufficient to fund the business during the bankruptcy process, said iHeartMedia, which owns Z100 in New York and Real 103.5 KISS FM in Chicago. The filing comes after John Malone's Liberty Media Corp proposed on Feb. 26 a deal to buy a 40 percent stake in a restructured iHeartMedia for $1.16 billion, uniting the company with Liberty's Sirius XM Holdings Inc satellite radio service. Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia, and its units did not commence Chapter 11 proceedings. The company had 14,300 employees at the end of 2016, according to its most recent annual report.

Can AMD Vulnerabilities Be Used To Game the Stock Market? ( 106

Earlier this week, a little-known security firm called CTS Labs reported, what it claimed to be, severe vulnerabilities and backdoors in some AMD processors. While AMD looks into the matter, the story behind the researchers' discovery and the way they made it public has become a talking point in security circles. The researchers, who work for CTS Labs, only reported the flaws to AMD shortly before publishing their report online. Typically, researchers give companies a few weeks or even months to fix the issues before going public with their findings. To make things even stranger, a little bit over 30 minutes after CTS Labs published its report, a controversial financial firm called Viceroy Research published what they called an "obituary" for AMD. Motherboard reports: "We believe AMD is worth $0.00 and will have no choice but to file for Chapter 11 (Bankruptcy) in order to effectively deal with the repercussions of recent discoveries," Viceroy wrote in its report. CTS Labs seemed to hint that it too had a financial interest in the performance of AMD stock. "We may have, either directly or indirectly, an economic interest in the performance of the securities of the companies whose products are the subject of our reports," CTS Labs wrote in the legal disclaimer section of its report.

On Twitter, rumors started to swirl. Are the researchers trying to make money by betting that AMD's share price will go down due to the news of the vulnerabilities? Or, in Wall Street jargon, were CTS Labs and Viceroy trying to short sell AMD stock? Security researcher Arrigo Triulzi speculated that Viceroy and CTS Lab were profit sharing for shorting, while Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos warned against a future where security research is driven by short selling.

[...] There's no evidence that CTS Labs worked with Viceroy to short AMD. But something like that has happened before. In 2016, security research firm MedSec found vulnerabilities in pacemakers made by St. Jude Medical. In what was likely a first, MedSec partnered with hedge fund Muddy Waters to bet against St. Jude Medical's stock. For Adrian Sanabria, director of research at security firm Threatcare and a former analyst at 451 Research, where he covered the cybersecurity industry, trying to short based on vulnerabilities just doesn't make much sense. While it could work in theory and could become more common in the future, he said in a phone call, "I don't think we've seen enough evidence of security vulnerabilities really moving the stock for it to really become an issue."
Further reading: Linus Torvalds slams CTS Labs over AMD vulnerability report (ZDNet).

How Amazon Became Corporate America's Nightmare ( 242

Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg that details Amazon's rapid growth in the last three years: Amazon makes no sense. It's the most befuddling, illogically sprawling, and -- to a growing sea of competitors -- flat-out terrifying company in the world. It sells soap and produces televised soap operas. It sells complex computing horsepower to the U.S. government and will dispatch a courier to deliver cold medicine on Christmas Eve. It's the third-most-valuable company on Earth, with smaller annual profits than Southwest Airlines Co., which as of this writing ranks 426th. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person, his fortune built on labor conditions that critics say resemble a Dickens novel with robots, yet he has enough mainstream appeal to play himself in a Super Bowl commercial. Amazon was born in cyberspace, but it occupies warehouses, grocery stores, and other physical real estate equivalent to 90 Empire State Buildings, with a little left over. The company has grown so large and difficult to comprehend that it's worth taking stock of why and how it's left corporate America so thoroughly freaked out. Executives at the biggest U.S. companies mentioned Amazon thousands of times during investor calls last year, according to transcripts -- more than President Trump and almost as often as taxes. Other companies become verbs because of their products: to Google or to Xerox. Amazon became a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be Amazoned means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. And fear of being Amazoned has become such a defining feature of commerce, it's easy to forget the phenomenon has arisen mostly in about three years.

SEC Charges Theranos, CEO Elizabeth Holmes With 'Massive Fraud' ( 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The SEC has charged Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani with fraud relating to the startup's fundraising activities. The company, as well as CEO Holmes and former president Balwani are said to have raised more than $700 million from investors through "an elaborate, years-long fraud." This involved making "false statements about the company's technology, business and financial performance." In a statement, the commission said that the company, and its two executives, misled investors about the capability of its blood testing technology. Theranos' big selling point was that its hardware could scan for a number of diseases with just a small drop of blood. Unfortunately, the company was never able to demonstrate that its system worked as well as its creators claimed.

The company and Elizabeth Holmes have already agreed to settle the charges leveled against them by the SEC. Holmes will have to pay a $500,000 fine and return 18.9 million shares in Theranos that she owned, as well as downgrading her super-majority equity into common stock. The CEO is now barred from serving as the officer or director of a public company for 10 years. In addition, if Theranos is liquidated or acquired, Holmes cannot profit from her remaining shareholding unless $750 million is handed back to defrauded investors. Balwani, on the other hand, is facing a federal court case in the Northern District of California where the SEC will litigate its claims against him.
Worth noting: the court still has to approve the deals between Holmes and Theranos, and neither party has admitted any wrongdoing.

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