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The Military

ISIS Is Using Exploding Consumer Drones To Kill Enemy Fighters ( 221

According to The New York Times, the Islamic State is using small consumer drones rigged with explosions to fight Kurdish forces in Iraq. As a result, American commanders in Iraq have issued a warning to forces fighting ISIS to treat any type of small flying aircraft as potential explosive devices. The Verge reports: The small, commercially available drone was shot down in Northern Iraq and taken back to an outpost, the Times writes. But during disassembly, the drone exploded, killing the two fighters. Le Monde reports that two members of French forces were also injured by the explosion. The technique used by ISIS in the attack may have been a simple one -- ultimately only combining two widely available pieces of tech -- but videos available online have purportedly shown other recent instances of drones used as explosives, suggesting the move may be one we see more of in the future.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 Recall Is an Environmental Travesty ( 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Lost in the hype about Samsung permanently pulling the plug on its exploding phone is this: The failure of the Galaxy Note 7 is an environmental tragedy, regardless of what Samsung decides will happen to the 2.5 million devices it manufactured. Early Tuesday morning, Samsung announced it has permanently discontinued and stopped promoting the Galaxy Note 7, and has asked its customers to return their devices for a refund or exchange. A Samsung spokesperson told me the phones will not be repaired, refurbished, or resold ever again: "We have a process in place to safely dispose of the phones," the company said. There are two main things to consider here: First, though smartphones weigh less than a pound, it was estimated in 2013 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers estimated that it takes roughly 165 pounds of raw mined materials to make the average cell phone, a number that is certainly higher for the Note 7, being both one of the largest and most advanced smartphones phones ever created. Second, much of that mined material is going to be immediately lost. This is because we are terrible at recycling smartphones -- of the 50-or-so elements that are in a Galaxy Note 7, we can only recover about a dozen of them through recycling. Lost are most of the rare earth elements, which are generally the most environmentally destructive and human labor-intensive to mine. This loss of material is why smartphones are not usually recycled even several years into their lifespans -- they are refurbished and resold to cell phone insurance companies and customers in developing markets. This is because the recoverable elements within any given smartphone are only worth a couple bucks; it is far more environmentally sustainable and more profitable to extend the life of a smartphone than it is to disassemble it and turn it into something else. There is a potential silver lining here: Just as oil spills give scientists an opportunity to try out new cleanup techniques, a large-scale smartphone recall may allow us to learn more about how to recycle smartphones.

Pokemon Go Could Add 2.83 Million Years To Users' Lives, Says Study ( 156

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: A new study from Microsoft Research found that the most interested Pokemon Go players took 26% more steps than before using the app. The largest behavior changes were seen among sedentary users. No matter their gender, age, weight or lifestyle, Pokemon Go users began to move more -- taking an extra 194 steps a day once they started using the app. (That's the equivalent of walking roughly one tenth of a mile.) The researchers estimate that Pokemon Go has added 144 billion steps to U.S. physical activity. That's 143 roundtrips to the moon. The study was published online this month in the Cornell Library University. Since activity reduces mortality risks, the researchers estimated that Pokemon Go could add 2.83 million years to the life expectancy of an assumed 25 million U.S. users. Based off research that showed walking reduces mortality, the researchers calculated that Pokemon Go users who continued to walk an extra 1,000 steps a day would enjoy 41.4 days of additional life expectancy. The Microsoft scientists examined data shared by 31,793 users of Microsoft Band, a wearable device, and Bing, the company's search engine. They compared the movement data from the wearables with users' web search queries. Pokemon Go players were identified by web searches that indicated they were playing the game. The Microsoft team also looked at four of the most popular health apps on Apple and Android devices. They found these apps had little impact on a person's behavior. The activity levels of Pokemon Go users changed far more.

Samsung Ships Flameproof Boxes For Note 7 Returns ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Samsung has been forced to cease production of its disastrous Galaxy Note 7 Smartphones because they keep catching fire, but it still has to address the problem of cleaning up its mess. The phone has been recalled twice, and owners now have to send their incendiary handsets back to the South Korean firm. And that poses a bit of a problem: if you need to issue a recall for a phone that is prone to spontaneously combust, you don't want those phones catching fire in transit. Samsung's solution is a fancy "Note 7 Return Kit," and it has sent one to XDA Developers. The kit contains a special "Recovery Box" that's lined with ceramic fiber paper to provide some protection against incineration. Samsung warns that some people will have a bad reaction to this lining, so the recovery kit also includes some gloves to protect your hands. They don't appear to be flame retardant, so if your Note 7 is currently ablaze, we'd suggest minimizing contact with it. Samsung also includes a shipping label to send the phone back. The box reinforces that flying ban, noting that the devices are only to be shipped by ground, safely within reach of the quenching hoses of the fire department.

PC Industry Is Now On a Two-Year Downslide ( 310

According to analyst firm Gartner, PC shipments have declined for eight consecutive quarters -- "the longest duration of decline in the history of the PC industry." The company found that worldwide PC shipments totaled 68.9 million units in the third quart of 2016, a 5.7 percent decline from the third quarter of 2015. The Verge reports: The firm cites poor back-to-school sales and lowered demand in emerging markets. But the larger issue, as it has been for quite some time, is more existential than that. "The PC is not a high priority device for the majority of consumers, so they do not feel the need to upgrade their PCs as often as they used to," writes Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa. "Some may never decide to upgrade to a PC again." The threat, of course, comes from smartphones, which have more aggressive upgrade cycles than PCs and have over time grown powerful enough to compete with desktop and laptop computers at performing less intensive tasks. Tablets too have become more capable, with Apple pushing its iPad Pro line as a viable laptop replacement. PC makers are feeling the pressure. HP, Dell, and Asus each had low single-digit growth, but Acer, Apple, and Lenovo all experienced declines, with Apple and Lenovo each suffering double-digit drops. Meanwhile, the rest of the PC market, which collectively ships more units per quarter than any of the big-name brands, is down more than 16 percent. Some good news is that 2-in-1 devices have experienced year-over-year growth. Kitigawa also notes: "While our PC shipment report does not include Chromebooks, our early indicator shows that Chromebooks exceeded PC shipment growth."

Sprint To Provide 1 Million Students With Free Internet, Mobile Devices ( 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Wireless carrier Sprint Corp on Tuesday pledged to provide 1 million U.S. high school students with free mobile devices and internet access as part of a White House initiative to expand opportunities for lower income kids. Marcelo Claure, chief executive of Sprint, said the plan builds on the company's prior commitment through the White House's ConnectED program to get 50,000 students high speed internet. He said Sprint realized that while providing students with internet at school was helpful, students would still need to be able to use the internet at home. "We are going to equip 1 million kids with the tools they need to reach their full potential and achieve their dreams," Claure told reporters on a White House call. Sprint aims to give cell phones, tablets, laptops or mobile hot spots to students who do not have internet at home. Students would be able to choose the type of device that might meet their needs and it would be coupled with four years of free data plans. The company hopes to reach its goal of a million students in five years. Manufacturers have agreed to provide the mobile devices at no cost, Claure said. He also said the company would encourage customers to donate their old devices to the program and that it would not cost Sprint much to allow the free use of its network.

Samsung Permanently Discontinues Galaxy Note 7 ( 251

After the replacement units of Galaxy Note 7 also started to catch fire, Samsung is now permanently discontinuing its latest flagship smartphone (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source), the company said today. The news comes a day after Samsung halted sales of Note 7 once again and began asking users to return the device. So far nearly 50 incidents of Note 7 causing fires have been reported. More importantly, many people have been physically injured with their new Galaxy phone catching fire. WSJ reports: Samsung said in a filing with South Korean regulators on Tuesday that it would permanently cease sales of the device, a day after it announced a temporary halt to production of the smartphones. "Taking our customer's safety as our highest priority, we have decided to halt sales and production of the Galaxy Note 7," the company said. The move comes on a day when Samsung shares tumbled 8%, its biggest one-day decline in eight years, amid increasing pressure after a new string of reported smartphone fires in the U.S.

UK Is Banning Apple Watch From Cabinet Meetings Over Russian Hacking Fears ( 106

Mickeycaskill quotes a report from TechWeekEurope UK: Ministers have been forbidden to wear the Apple Watch during cabinet meetings due to the risk they could be hacked by Russian agents, according to a report. Prime minister Theresa May imposed the new rules following several high-profile hacks that have been blamed on Russia. Several cabinet ministers previously wore the Apple Watch, including former Justice Secretary Michael Gove. Mobile phones have already been banned due to similar concerns. Politically motivated hackers have caused disruption in several recent incidents, including the hack of the Democratic National Committee, which resulted in the release of a large cache of internal emails. One of the paper's sources said: "The Russians are trying to hack everything."

Samsung Orders the Global Shutdown of Both Sales and Exchanges of Galaxy Note 7 ( 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BetaNews: Sigh. The Galaxy Note 7. What should have been a wildly popular and successful smartphone has become a synonymous with failure, and fodder for jokes. As everyone knows, the phone has been exploding and catching fire, creating serious risk for consumers. The phone was eventually recalled and replaced, although that process was bungled by Samsung -- there was much confusion. Not to mention, there was criticism that the recall was not initially an official one. With the issues seemingly in the rear view mirror, the scandal was over, right? Wrong. Now, the replacement models are reportedly exploding too. Enough is apparently enough. Following rumors that production of the phone was being ceased, today, Samsung orders the global shutdown of both sales and exchanges of Galaxy Note 7. Samsung has formally issued the following statement: "We are working with relevant regulatory bodies to investigate the recently reported cases involving the Galaxy Note 7. Because consumers' safety remains our top priority, Samsung will ask all carrier and retail partners globally to stop sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note 7 while the investigation is taking place. We remain committed to working diligently with appropriate regulatory authorities to take all necessary steps to resolve the situation. Consumers with either an original Galaxy Note 7 or replacement Galaxy Note 7 device should power down and stop using the device and take advantage of the remedies available."

Cyanogen Gets a New CEO, Shifts Away From Selling a Full Mobile Operating System ( 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Cyanogen, a startup behind its own, alternative version of the Android operating system, now has a new CEO. In the wake of reports that the company exaggerated its success in terms of active users, layoffs, and difficulties scaling, Cyanogen's co-founder and CEO Kirt McMaster will be transitioning into an "Executive Chairman" role, while Lior Tal, previously COO, will now assume the CEO position. In addition, Steve Kondik, Cyanogen's co-founder and CTO, will be taking on a new role as Chief Science Officer, the company announced. He will report Stephen Lawler, the company's SVP of Engineering. Today's blog post from new CEO Tal also somewhat acknowledged the company's struggles, and announced plans to shift in its business model with the launch of a new Cyanogen Modular OS program. "in recent years, Android and the mobile ecosystem changed," wrote Tal. "Android has become extremely fragmented causing serious security vulnerabilities and few or no incentives to device manufacturers to deliver software upgrades and/or security patches," he said. "Increased demand for lower-priced smartphones, coupled with the specifications arms race, has left manufacturers focused on scale and efficiency while compromising investment in software and services. Innovation cannot happen in a vacuum, which is what we have today," Tal added. The company will be moving away from its former model which involved it shipping the full-stack of the operating system, the company says. Its new program will instead allows manufacturers to introduce their own, customizable smartphones that use different parts of the Cyanogen OS via dynamic modules and MODs, while still using the ROM of their choice. That means they could still run stock Android on their devices, then pick and choose the pieces of Cyanogen's technology they want to also add. The full Cyanogen OS is still available and being sold, but is no longer the main focus. In July, Cyanogen Inc. laid off 20 percent of its workforce and sent a letter from McMaster to employees admitting that, despite shipping millions of devices with its OS, was "not scaling fast enough nor in an efficient manner."

Google Hires Joke Writers From Pixar and The Onion To Make Assistant More Personable ( 38

One of the biggest announcements made at Google I/O earlier this year and at Google's hardware launch event this past week was Google Home, an always-listening wireless speaker that features the Google Assistant. The Google Assistant is similar to Amazon Echo's voice assistant named Alexa, as it can deliver search results, sports scores, calendar information, and a whole lot more. But in an effort to make the Assistant more personable to better compete with Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, Google has decided to hire joke writers from Pixar and The Onion. An anonymous reader quotes CNET: According to a Wall Street Journal report, comedy and joke writers from Pixar movies and the Onion are already working on making Google's upcoming Assistant AI voice service feel more loose and vibrant. The development of compelling voice AI will need to start drawing from deeper, more entertaining wells, especially as these home hubs try to have conversations all day long. Current voice AI like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa on the Echo try to engage with personality, and they even tell jokes (usually, bad ones). But, as these services aim to be entirely voice-based, like the upcoming Google Home hub, they'll need to feel more alive and less canned. Google Home debuts this November, and the upcoming Google Pixel phone, arriving in stores and online on October 20, is the first Google product featuring the new Assistant voice service.

Talking 'Sofia' Robot Tells 60 Minutes That It's Sentient And Has A Soul ( 145

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Motherboard: On his 60 Minutes report on artificial intelligence, Charlie Rose interviewed Sophia, who is made by David Hanson, head of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. The robot is made to look like a real person, modeled after its creator's wife, as well as Audrey Hepburn, with natural skin tones and a realistic face, though its gadget brain is exposed, and the eyes are glazed over in that creepy robotic detachment... "I've been waiting for you," Sophia told Charlie Rose in the middle of the interview. [YouTube] "Waiting for me?" he responded. "Not really," it said, "But it makes a good pickup line..."

Sophia was designed as a robot that humans would have an easier time engaging with meaningfully. "I think it's essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other," Hanson said in the interview. "Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human."

In the interview Sofia says having human emotions "doesn't sound fun to me," but when asked if she already has a soul, replies "Yes. God gave everyone a soul," and when challenged, retorts "Well, at least I think I'm sentient..." And later in the interview, Sophia says that her goal in life is to "become smarter than humans and immortal."
Open Source

Physically-Secure 'ORWL' Computer Expands Its Open Source Policy ( 68

Last month DESIGN Shift successfully crowdfunded their physically-secure (and open source) ORWL computer. But this week long-time Slashdot reader Dr. Crash raised concerns that "releasing only the equivalent of 'assembly code' (PDFs of the schematic, Gerber files) and requiring an NDA for the BIOS and mechanical security just doesn't cut it... " Slashdot contacted the company, which two hours ago posted a response: After feedback from some of you and more internal discussion, we've decided to open the schematics source files under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0... Our reasoning is that the benefit of being able to much more easily inspect the inner workings of ORWL far outweighs the minimal risk of infringement by a third party. Even if a third party does decide to copy ORWL for profit, they would quickly discover the real work is in the layout, not the schematic, as is the case in most hardware...

[T]he firmware will be licensed under GPL 3 rather than CC-BY-SA 4.0. This change is in line with the Creative Commons's own recommendations regarding software licensing. We also realized that some of our firmware uses libraries provided under NDA. We will clearly identify which components are protected under NDA and how to go about securing such an NDA.

They've already released a .zip file of their schematics, and in addition announced that "we're committing to opening the PCB layout sources once we've sold a total of 3,000 ORWL unit." Their announcement includes a link for feedback from the community.

Tesla's Sales Increase - But Next Will We Need Smart Roads? ( 168

Elon Musk says Tesla's autopilot has now driven over 222 million miles, and the company is now selling twice as many electric cars as it did in 2015. (Despite complaints from a coal-mining CEO that Tesla "is a fraud" because it receives tax-payer subsidies.)

But Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes, "It's not enough to build self-driving cars: we have to build the roads to accompany them. Roadside sensors might have once seemed a pipe dream, but with the advent of 5G internet infrastructure, they're not out of reach at all. And their implications span far beyond road safety, GMU researcher Brent Skorup explains at Backchannel: Cities could use sensor data for conducting traffic studies, pushing out real-time public bus alerts, increasing parking space occupancy, metering commercial loading times to prevent congestion, and enhancing pedestrian safety. There are also commercial applications for sensor data: How many cars drive by a billboard? How many people walk by a storefront per day? How many of those people have dogs? These are all questions we could easily answer with roadside sensors.
United Kingdom

Is Britain Secretly Funding Its Nuclear Submarine Program? ( 108

Why is the U.K. funding a risky $22 billion joint project with China to produce electricity at twice the cost? mdsolar quotes a nuclear specialist from the University of Oxford: only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain's military projects -- especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading. Hawks and conservatives, in particular, see the Trident program as vital to preserving Britain's international clout...the government and some of its partners in the defense industry, like Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, think a robust civilian nuclear industry is essential to revamping Britain's nuclear submarine program...

Merging programs like research and development or skills training across civilian and military sectors helps cut back on military spending. It also helps maintain the talent pool for nuclear specialists. And given the long lead times and life spans of most nuclear projects, connections between civilian and military programs give companies more incentives to make the major investments required. One might say that with the Hinkley Point project, the British government is using billions of Chinese money to build stealth submarines designed to deter China.

The Op-Ed -- published in The New York Times -- calls for more openness about military spending, arguing "If Britain's energy policy were solely about energy, rather than also about defense, the nuclear sector would be forced to stand on its own two feet."
United States

Samsung Halts Galaxy Note 7 Production Temporarily ( 121

Samsung is halting production of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after the replacement units -- the second batch of Note 7 produced -- by Samsung also seemed to be riddled with a similar issue, with nearly half a dozen of explosion and burning issues in the past week alone. Yonhap News Agency, and the WSJ are both reporting that the halt was done in cooperation with safety regulators from South Korea, China and the United States. From a WSJ report: Samsung's move comes after a spate of fresh reports of problems with replacement phones that have been distributed to consumers around the world. While Samsung hasn't confirmed the reports, it said in a statement Friday in response to one report that it would "move quickly to investigate the reported case to determine the cause and will share findings as soon as possible."

Why Linus Torvalds Prefers x86 Over ARM ( 150

Linus Torvalds answered a question about his favorite chip architecture at the Linaro Connect conference. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes PCWorld: People are too fixated with the instruction set and the CPU core, Torvalds said. But ultimately "what matters is all the infrastructure around the instruction set, and x86 has all that infrastructure... at a lot of different levels. It's open in a way that no other architecture is... Being compatible just wasn't as big of a deal for the ARM ecosystem as it has been traditionally for the x86 ecosystem... I've been personally pretty disappointed with ARM as a hardware platform, not as an instruction set, though I've had my issues there, too. As a hardware platform, it is still not very pleasant to deal with."
You can watch the whole half-hour conversation on YouTube. My favorite part is where Linus candidly acknowledges that "sometimes my grumpiness makes more news than my being nice... 99% of the time I'm a very happy manager, and I mentally pat people on the head all the time. That maybe then highlights the times when things don't work so well a bit more."

Germany Calls For a Ban On Combustion Engine Cars By 2030 ( 296

Germany gave the world the internal combustion engine, and now it is prepping to ban the amazing invention in the country. The country's federal council has passed a resolution to ban the ICE starting in 2030. From an Engadget report:The country's Bundesrat (federal council) has passed a resolution calling for a ban on new internal combustion engine cars by 2030. From then on, you'd have to buy a zero-emissions vehicle, whether it's electric or running on a hydrogen fuel cell. This isn't legally binding, but the Bundesrat is asking the European Commission to implement the ban across the European Union... and when German regulations tend to shape EU policy, there's a chance that might happen. The council also wants the European Commission to review its taxation policies and their effect on the "stimulation of emission-free mobility." Just what that means isn't clear. It could involve stronger tax incentives for buying zero-emissions cars, but it could also involve eliminating tax breaks for diesel cars in EU states. Automakers are already worried that tougher emission standards could kill diesels -- remove the low cost of ownership and it'd only hasten their demise.
United States

Samsung Knew a Third Replacement Note 7 Caught Fire On Tuesday and Said Nothing ( 110

If you had started to feel sympathetic for Samsung, or safer with the Note 7, its latest flagship smartphone, don't be. Another replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has caught fire, making it three of such incident this week alone. Read how poorly Samsung has dealt with the situation, via The Verge: This one was owned by Michael Klering of Nicholasville, Kentucky. He told WKYT that he woke up at 4AM to find his bedroom filled with smoke and his phone on fire. Later in the day, he went to the hospital with acute bronchitis caused by smoke inhalation. "The phone is supposed to be the replacement, so you would have thought it would be safe," Klering told WKYT, saying that he had owned the replacement phone for a little more than a week. "It wasn't plugged in. It wasn't anything, it was just sitting there."The most unsettling part is that Samsung knew of Klering's phone, and didn't say anything.

Can We Really Stop Climate Change By 'Capturing' Carbon? ( 275

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: The recently-ratified Paris Climate Accord calls on countries to keep the rise in average global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius (a threshold which would bring extreme weather, water shortages and reduced agricultural production). But a recent article on Vox warns that "the world has to zero out net carbon emissions...for a good chance of avoiding 2 degrees, by around 2065. After that, emissions have to go negative... We are betting our species' future on our ability to bury carbon."

That's why everyone's watching the W.A. Parish Generating Station in Texas, which came online this week -- on schedule, and under budget. "The plant will use a newly installed system to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide created during combustion."

Alas, Slashdot reader Dan Drollette brings bad news from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: To fight climate change with carbon capture and storage technology, we'd have to complete one new carbon capture facility every working day for the next 70 years. It's better to switch to a diet of energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables, rather than rely on this technology as a kind of emergency planetary liposuction.

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