Sci-Fi

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? (cnet.com) 197

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.
Ubuntu

Ubuntu Wants To Collect Data About Your System -- Starting With 18.04 LTS (fossbytes.com) 207

In an announcement on Ubuntu mailing list, Will Cooke, on behalf of the Ubuntu Desktop team, announced Canonical's plans to collect some data related to the users' system configuration and the packages installed on their machines. From a report: Before you read anything further, it's important to note that users will have the option to opt-out of this data collection. The company plans to add a checkbox to the installer, which would be checked by default. The option could be like: "Send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu." As per your convenience, you can opt-out during the installation. An option to do the same will also be made available in the Privacy panel of GNOME Settings. With this data collection, the team wishes to improve the daily experiences of the Ubuntu users. It's worth noting that the collected data will be sent over encrypted connections and no IP addresses will be tracked. To be precise, the collected data will include: flavour and version of Ubuntu, network connectivity or not, CPU family, RAM, disk(s) size, screen(s) resolution, GPU vendor and model, OEM manufacturer, location (based on the location selection made during install), no IP information, time taken for Installation, auto-login enabled or not, disk layout selected, third party software selected or not, download updates during install or not, livePatch enabled or not.
Space

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband (arstechnica.com) 78

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.

Security

Hackers In Equifax Breach Accessed More Personal Information Than Previously Disclosed (cnn.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Equifax said, in a document submitted to the Senate Banking Committee and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that cyberthieves accessed records across numerous tables in its systems that included such data as tax identification numbers, email addresses and drivers' license information beyond the license numbers it originally disclosed. The revelations come some five months after Equifax announced it had been breached and personal information belonging to 145.5 million consumers had been compromised, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses. It's unclear how many of the 145.5 million people are affected by the additional data including tax ID numbers, which are often assigned to people who don't have Social Security numbers. Hackers also accessed email addresses for some consumers, according to the document and an Equifax spokeswoman, who said "an insignificant number" of email addresses were affected. She added that email addresses aren't considered sensitive personal information because they are commonly searchable in public domains.

As for tax ID numbers, the Equifax spokeswoman said they "were generally housed in the same field" as Social Security numbers. She added that individuals without a Social Security number could use their tax ID number to see if they were affected by the hack. Equifax also said, in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, that some additional drivers' license information had been accessed. The company publicly disclosed in its Sept. 7 breach announcement that drivers' license numbers were accessed; the document submitted to the banking committee also includes drivers' license issue dates and states.

AI

Reddit Bans 'Deepfakes' AI Porn Communities (theverge.com) 110

Reddit has banned the r/deepfakes subreddit that's devoted to making AI-powered porn using celebrities' faces, classifying it as a form of "involuntary pornography." Reddit follows several other platforms that have already banned deepfakes pornography, including Pornhub, which said yesterday that deepfakes imagery counted as nonconsensual pornography. The Verge reports: In a post today, Reddit announced an update to its rules on posting sexual imagery of a person without their consent. The new rule extends a ban on posting photos or video of people who are nude or engaged in sexual acts without the subject's permission, saying that this includes "depictions that have been faked" -- including the sophisticated face-swapped videos that have become especially popular on Reddit over the past month. "Do not post images or video of another person for the specific purpose of faking explicit content or soliciting 'lookalike' pornography."

This doesn't affect all AI-based face swapping enthusiasts on Reddit. The subreddit for FakeApp, a program that allows anyone to swap faces in videos, is still online. So is r/SFWdeepfakes, which is devoted to non-pornographic use of the technology. At least one small, specific subreddit devoted to simulated porn for an individual actor also seems to have slipped under the radar. But along with the central deepfakes hub, the main subreddit for posting not-safe-for-work deepfakes has gotten shut down, and so has the community r/YouTubefakes. The subreddit r/CelebFakes, which focused on non-AI-powered photoshopped pornographic images, was initially left online, but removed shortly after the announcement.
The site will rely on "first-party reports" to shut down future deepfakes material.
Bitcoin

India Vows To Eliminate Use of Cryptocurrencies in the Country (hindustantimes.com) 68

India will move to stamp out use of cryptocurrencies, which it considers illegal, country's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday, launching a no-holds-barred attack on virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. From a report: Governments around the world are grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrency trading, and policymakers are expected to discuss the matter at a G20 summit in Argentina in March. "The government does not consider cryptocurrencies legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate use of these cryptoassets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payment system," Jaitley told parliament in his annual budget speech. However, the minister said, the government would explore use of block chain technology proactively to speed the move toward a digital economy. Jaitley's announcement could trigger "panic selling" in cryptocurrencies in India, said Amit Maheshwari, partner at tax consultants Ashok Maheshwary & Associates LLP.
Businesses

Xerox Cedes Control To Fujifilm, Ending Its Independence (bloomberg.com) 60

mikeebbbd writes: According to Bloomberg, "Xerox, a once-iconic American innovator that became synonymous with office copy machines, is ceding control to Japan's Fujifilm in a deal that creates an $18 billion company." Essentially, it's merging with Fujifilm; a former joint venture operating in the Asian-Pacific area essentially will become the parent company... So much for the company that actually invented the modern graphical user interface later popularized by Apple and Microsoft. "The agreement marks the end of independence for a U.S. company whose roots trace back to the start of the 20th century," reports Bloomberg. "The joint venture will cut 10,000 jobs in Asia as part of the restructuring as the Japanese company struggles with an 'increasingly severe' market environment." While the new company will have a combined revenue of $18 billion, Xerox was acquired by Fujifilm for $6.1 billion.
Facebook

Facebook Will Prioritize Local Stories In Your News Feed (engadget.com) 64

Facebook announced today that it will begin prioritizing local news, bumping it up higher in your feed if you follow a local publisher's Page or if a friend shares a locally-published story. "We are prioritizing local news as part of our emphasis on high-quality news, and with today's update, stories from local news publishers may appear higher in News Feed for followers in publishers' geographic areas," Facebook said in the announcement. Engadget reports: Facebook, which recently announced it would be shifting its News Feed focus away from news and more towards friends' posts, says the local news prioritization will kick off in the U.S., but it plans to expand it to other countries this year. "These efforts to prioritize quality news in News Feed, including this local initiative, are a direct result of the ongoing collaboration with partners," said Facebook. "Our goal is to show more news that connects people to their local communities, and we look forward to improving and expanding these efforts this year."
Intel

Intel Plans To Release Chips That Have Built-in Meltdown and Spectre Protections Later This Year (businessinsider.com) 154

Intel plans to release chips that have built-in protections against the Spectre and Meltdown attacks later this year, company CEO Brian Krzanich said during company's quarterly earnings call this week. From a report: The company has "assigned some of our very best minds" to work on addressing the vulnerability that's exploited by those attacks, Krzanich said on a conference call following Intel's quarterly earnings announcement. That will result in "silicon-based" changes to the company's future chips, he said. "We've been working around clock" to address the vulnerability and attacks, Krzanich said. But, he added, "we're acutely aware we have more to do."
Operating Systems

Fitbit Will End Support For Pebble Smartwatches In June (arstechnica.com) 93

Today, Fitbit announced that it will extend its support of the Pebble smartwatch ecosystem, including devices, software, and forums, until June 30, 2018. "During this time, we invite the Pebble community to explore how familiar highlights from the Pebble ecosystem are evolving on the Fitbit platform, from apps and clock faces to features and experiences," the company's blog post states. Ars Technica reports: Fitbit's invitation is a hopeful one for the company itself. After the buyout, members of the Pebble team helped Fitbit develop its own smartwatch OS that debuted on the $300 Fitbit Ionic last year. Fitbit is likely hoping that diehard members of the Pebble community, many of which developed apps and programs for the smartwatch platform, will try making similar programs for Fitbit's new wearable operating system. The Fitbit SDK is already quite accessible, allowing developers to sign up and start building programs using all-online tools. But in addition to the accessibility of the SDK, Fitbit wants to entice Pebble users with a discount: users with a valid Pebble device serial number can get $50 off a Fitbit Ionic smartwatch. It's currently the only device that runs Fitbit OS, and it's useful to have if you want to test out any apps made with the SDK. But for those who want nothing to do with Fitbit OS development and only care about how long their Pebbles will last, this news is bittersweet. According to Fitbit's announcement, Pebble devices will continue to work after June 30, but these features will stop working: the Pebble app store, the Pebble forum, voice recognition features, SMS and email replies, timeline pins from third-party apps (although calendar pins will still function), and the CloudPebble development tool.
The Internet

New York Governor Signs Executive Order To Keep Net Neutrality Rules After FCC's Repeal (theverge.com) 131

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that he has signed an executive order that would require internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules, even though the FCC recently voted to repeal those rules last month. Cuomo's announcement comes a couple days after Montana's governor signed essentially the same order. The Verge reports: [Both executive orders] require service providers with contracts to abide by the widely agreed upon tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, throttling, or otherwise favoring content. But the more populous New York could now become a key battleground over net neutrality. According to the order, any service provider receiving or renewing a contract after March 1st in New York will be required to sign an agreement saying they will adhere to net neutrality principles. Major companies, including Verizon and AT&T, have signed contracts with the state. That, however, doesn't mean the executive order will stand. When it passed its repeal of net neutrality rules late last year, the FCC specifically included a provision blocking states from passing their own rules. New York, like other states that attempt similar plans, will likely face a legal challenge.
Transportation

Norway Will Make All Short-Haul Flights Electric By 2040 (independent.co.uk) 206

Norway's public operator of air transport plans to make all short-haul flights in the country entirely electric by 2040. "State-owned Avinor, which operates most of Norway's civil airports, is aiming to be the 'first in the world' to switch to electric air transport," reports The Independent. From the report: "We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric," chief executive Dag Falk-Petersen told AFP. The announcement confirms Norway's reputation as a leader in electric power. In a 2017 report, Avinor announced that in cooperation with the Norwegian Sports Aviation Association and major airlines, it had set up a development project for electric aircraft. Avinor said it had "called for Norway to be established as a test arena and innovation center for the development of electric aircraft." Avinor intends to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions in the short term by phasing in biofuels in the coming years, and then build on these reductions by phasing in electric planes.
Security

Security Breaches Don't Affect Stock Price, Study Suggests (schneier.com) 28

Computer security professional Bruce Schneier highlights the key findings of a study that suggests security breaches don't affect stock price. The study has been published in the Journal of Information Privacy and Security. From the report: -While the difference in stock price between the sampled breached companies and their peers was negative (1.13%) in the first 3 days following announcement of a breach, by the 14th day the return difference had rebounded to + 0.05%, and on average remained positive through the period assessed.

-For the differences in the breached companies' betas and the beta of their peer sets, the differences in the means of 8 months pre-breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

-For the differences in the breached companies' beta correlations against the peer indices pre- and post-breach, the difference in the means of the rolling 60 day correlation 8 months pre- breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

-In regression analysis, use of the number of accessed records, date, data sensitivity, and malicious versus accidental leak as variables failed to yield an R2 greater than 16.15% for response variables of 3, 14, 60, and 90 day return differential, excess beta differential, and rolling beta correlation differential, indicating that the financial impact on breached companies was highly idiosyncratic.

-Based on returns, the most impacted industries at the 3 day post-breach date were U.S. Financial Services, Transportation, and Global Telecom. At the 90 day post-breach date, the three most impacted industries were U.S. Financial Services, U.S. Healthcare, and Global Telecom.

NASA

SpaceX and Boeing Slated For Manned Space Missions By Year's End (fortune.com) 79

schwit1 shares a report from Fortune, covering NASA's announcement last week that it expects SpaceX to conduct a crewed test flight by the end of the year: SpaceX's crewed test flight is slated for December, after an uncrewed flight in August. Boeing will also be demonstrating its CST-100 Starliner capsule, with a crewed flight in November following an uncrewed flight in August. NASA's goal is to launch crews to the ISS from U.S. soil, a task that has fallen to Russia's space program since the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. NASA began looking for private launch companies to take over starting in 2010, and contracted both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to pursue crewed launches. The push to restore America's crewed spaceflight capacity has been delayed in part, according to a detailed survey by Ars Technica, by Congress redirecting funds in subsequent years. The test flights could determine whether Boeing or SpaceX conducts the first U.S. commercial space launch to the ISS. Whichever company gets that honor may also claim a symbolic U.S. flag stuck to a hatch on the space station. Sources speaking to Ars describe the race between the two companies as too close to call, and say that a push to early 2019 is entirely possible. But in an apparent vote of confidence, NASA has already begun naming astronauts to helm the flights.
The Almighty Buck

Cryptocurrency Exchange Kraken Suddenly Goes Dark For Two Days (sfchronicle.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: One of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges was down more than 40 hours this week, causing clients to freak out... San Francisco's Kraken went offline at 9 p.m. on Wednesday for maintenance that was initially scheduled to last two hours, plus an additional two to three hours for withdrawals, according to an announcement on the company's website. "We are still working to resolve the issues that we have identified and our team is working around the clock to ensure a smooth upgrade," according to a status update on Kraken's website posted early Friday. "This means it may still take several hours before we can relaunch." Shortly after noon, the company said it was "still working to track down an elusive bug which is holding up launch." It promised customers "a substantial amount of free trading" after the problem was resolved. In previous updates, Kraken mentioned it is working on "unexpected and delicate issues" and assured clients their funds were secure, adding that "Yes, this is our new record for downtime since we launched in 2013. No, we're not proud of it."
It's 53 hours after the downtime began, and their web page is still showing the same announcement.

"Kraken is presently offline for maintenance."
Businesses

Circuit City Is Coming Back (arstechnica.com) 84

Following a tease of a CES announcement, current Circuit City CEO Ronny Shmoel confirmed on Monday that something called Circuit City will arrive as "a new, more personalized online shopping experience" starting February 15. The announcement even included promises of AI-driven recommendations fueled by IBM's Watson platform, plus unexplained "augmented reality" and "search by photo" features. Ars Technica reports: Curiously, Shmoel also promised "real-time tech support via video chat," but it's unclear whether this feature will include two-way video feeds -- and, thus, whether Circuit City is prepared for a deluge of Chatroulette-caliber video surprises from trolls. This online Circuit City rebirth may very well actually come to exist, as Shmoel claims that the company has put together a fully fledged inventory and distribution system, with a mix of known electronics brand names and "tier-two and tier-three" names (Shamsung? Panafauxnoic?). The same cannot be said for its CES tease of eventual brick-and-mortar showrooms in the neighborhood of 8,000-10,000 square feet, however. Shmoel already backtracked on similar showroom promises in 2016, and his CES pronouncement of future shops included no hard confirmations of locations or dates. But for anybody who dares to dream, Circuit City's showroom design partner, Taylored Group, released a concept render of its store vision which looks like a Radio Shack as if rendered in a Taiwanese hot-take news video.
Cellphones

Future Samsung Phones Will Have a Working FM Radio Chip (androidpolice.com) 215

A few months ago, LG announced a partnership with NextRadio to unlock the FM chip in its smartphones. Now, Samsung is doing the same. Android Police reports: NextRadio made the announcement, rightly explaining that FM radio is essential in areas with low connectivity and in emergency and disaster situations where a connection might be difficult to obtain or maintain and where access to information could be a matter of life and death. With the chip unlocked, users will be able to listen to local radio on their phone using the NextRadio Android app. The press release mentions that "upcoming [Samsung] smartphone models in the U.S. and Canada" will have the FM chip unlocked, however I did find several existing Samsung devices with their FM chip enabled on NextRadio's site.
The Military

Pentagon Seeks Laser-Powered Bat Drones (defenseone.com) 44

Zorro quotes DefenseOne: A new contest seeks flight systems inspired by Mother Nature and powered by directed-energy beams. Tired: multi-rotor copters and fixed-wing drones. Wired: flying robots that move like living animals, are crafted of next-generation materials, and draw their power not from batteries but energy beamed from nearby aircraft...

"The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials," the announcement reads. The Air Force believes that more and more naturalistic design -- coupled with more powerful and smaller sensors to form a better picture of the outside world -- should yield "significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs."

The article includes a link to a CalTech video showing footage of an advanced robotic bat.
Programming

Rust 1.23.0 Released, Community Urged To Blog Ideas For 2018 Roadmap (rust-lang.org) 76

An anonymous reader quotes the official Rust blog: The Rust team is happy to announce a new version of Rust, 1.23.0... New year, new Rust! For our first improvement today, we now avoid some unnecessary copies in certain situations. We've seen memory usage of using rustc to drop 5-10% with this change; it may be different with your programs... The documentation team has been on a long journey to move rustdoc to use CommonMark. Previously, rustdoc never guaranteed which markdown rendering engine it used, but we're finally committing to CommonMark. As part of this release, we render the documentation with our previous renderer, Hoedown, but also render it with a CommonMark compliant renderer, and warn if there are any differences.
A few new APIs were also stabilized in this release -- see the complete release notes here -- and you no longer need to import the trait AsciiExt to provide ASCII-related functionality on u8, char, [u8], and str.

The Rust blog made another announcement earlier this week. "As open source software becomes more and more ubiquitous and popular, the Rust team is interested in exploring new and innovative ways to solicit community feedback and participation." So while defining Rust's roadmap for 2018, "we'd like to try something new in addition to the RFC process: a call for community blog posts for ideas of what the goals should be."
Businesses

Apple Product Delays Have More Than Doubled Under Tim Cook's Watch, Says Report (wsj.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Of the three major new products since Mr. Cook became chief executive in 2011, both AirPods earbuds in 2016 and last year's HomePod speaker missed Apple's publicly projected shipping dates. The Apple Watch, promised for early 2015, arrived late that April with lengthy wait times for delivery. Apple also was delayed in supplying the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, two critical accessories for its iPad Pro. The delays have contributed to much longer waits between Apple announcing a product and shipping it: an average of 23 days for new and updated products over the past six years, compared with the 11-day average over the six years prior, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Apple public statements. Longer lead times between announcement and product release have the potential to hurt Apple on multiple fronts. Delays give rivals time to react, something the company tried to prevent in the past by keeping lead times short, analysts and former Apple employees said. They can stoke customer disappointment and have cost Apple sales.

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