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Communications

Amazon Seeks FCC Permission To Run Wireless Tests In Washington State (csmonitor.com) 20

Amazon has filed an application with the U.S. federal government that details plans to experiment with wireless communications technology. The application asks the FCC for permission "to test undisclosed prototypes and their related software for five months in and around its Seattle headquarters," reports Christian Science Monitor. "The experiments will involve mobile devices and anchored stations alike, according to an FCC application made public last week and first reported by Business Insider's Eugene Kim, who noted the project could be part of Amazon's drone-delivery initiatives or something even more novel." From the report: In recent years, Google and Facebook have begun conducting wireless experiments of their own with FCC approval, pursuing a number of innovative projects, such as self-driving cars, as Mr. Kim reported. Amazon, meanwhile, has focused on its aspirations of drone delivery service for its online retail business -- a service the firm has pursued in Britain and several other countries as well. Given the company's wide-ranging interests, it is difficult to anticipate precisely what the tests entail. Last year alone, Amazon unveiled projects to change the way people grocery shop, offer drivers a voice-activated driving assistant, and ship cargo with its own branded planes, as the Monitor reported. Amazon's application to the FCC notes that the tests would begin indoors at the Seattle headquarters then later move outdoors to a customer service site more than 220 miles away, in Kennewick, Wash. The tests would last five months, beginning as early as Feb. 11, 2017, the documents state.
Privacy

Hackers Corrupt Data For Cloud-Based Medical Marijuana System (bostonglobe.com) 137

Long-time Slashdot reader t0qer writes: I'm the IT director at a medical marijuana dispensary. Last week the point of sales system we were using was hacked... What scares me about this breach is, I have about 30,000 patients in my database alone. If this company has 1,000 more customers like me, even half of that is still 15 million people on a list of people that "Smoke pot"...
" No patient, consumer, or client data was ever extracted or viewed," the company's data directory has said. "The forensic analysis proves that. The data was encrypted -- so it couldn't have been viewed -- and it was never extracted, so nobody has it and could attempt decryption." They're saying it was a "targeted" attack meant to corrupt the data rather than retrieve it, and they're "reconstructing historical data" from backups, though their web site adds that their backup sites were also targeted.

"In response to this attack, all client sites have been migrated to a new, more secure environment," the company's CEO announced on YouTube Saturday, adding that "Keeping our client's data secure has always been our top priority." Last week one industry publication had reported that the outage "has sent 1,000 marijuana retailers in 23 states scrambling to handle everything from sales and inventory management to regulatory compliance issues."
The Internet

Thousands Of Cubans Now Have Internet Access (ap.org) 69

There's been a dramatic change in one of the world's least-connected countries. An anonymous reader quotes the AP: Since the summer of 2015, the Cuban government has opened 240 public Wi-Fi spots in parks and on street corners across the country... The government estimates that 100,000 Cubans connect to the internet daily. A new feature of urban life in Cuba is the sight of people sitting at all hours on street corners or park benches, their faces illuminated by the screen of smartphones connected by applications such as Facebook Messenger to relatives in Miami, Ecuador or other outposts of the Cuban diaspora...

Cuban ingenuity has spread internet far beyond those public places: thousands of people grab the public signals through commercially available repeaters, imported illegally into Cuba and often sold for about $100 -- double the original price. Mounted on rooftops, the repeaters grab the public signals and create a form of home internet increasingly available in private rentals for tourists and cafes and restaurants for Cubans and visitors alike.

The article also points out that last month, for the first time ever, 2,000 Cubans began receiving home internet access.
Transportation

California's Bullet Train Hurtles Towards a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun (latimes.com) 392

schwit1 quotes the Los Angeles Times: California's bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that's just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by the Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.

The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property. The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won't happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.

The whole project is expected to cost more than $68 billion.
Government

Amateur Scientists Find New Clue In D.B. Cooper Case, Crowdsource Their Investigation (kare11.com) 132

Six months after the FBI closed the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history -- after a 45-year investigation -- there's a new clue. An anonymous reader quotes Seattle news station KING: A band of amateur scientists selected by the Seattle FBI to look for clues in the world's most infamous skyjacking may have found new evidence in the 45-year-old case. They're asking for the public's help because of new, potential leads that could link DB Cooper to the Puget Sound aerospace industry in the early 1970s. The scientific team has been analyzing particles removed from the clip-on tie left behind by Cooper after he hijacked a Northwest Orient passenger jet in November 1971. A powerful electron microscope located more than 100,000 particles on old the JCPenny tie. The team has identified particles like Cerium, Strontium Sulfide, and pure titanium.

Tom Kaye, lead researcher for the group calling itself Citizen Sleuths, says the group is intrigued by the finding, because the elements identified were rarely used in 1971, during the time of Cooper's daring leap with a parachute from a passenger jet. One place they were being used was for Boeing's high-tech Super Sonic Transport plane...

Interestingly, it was even a Boeing aircraft that Cooper hijacked, and witnesses say he wasn't nervous on the flight, and seemed familiar with the terrain below.
Government

Petition With Over 1 Million Signatures Urges President Obama To Pardon Snowden (cnet.com) 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: More than 1 million people signed onto a petition asking President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, proponents of the pardon said Friday. The campaign began in September, when Snowden, his attorney Ben Wizner from the ACLU, and other privacy activists announced they would formally petition Obama for a pardon. Snowden leaked classified NSA documents detailing surveillance programs run by the U.S. and its allies to journalists in 2013, kicking off a heated debate on whether Americans should be willing to sacrifice internet privacy to help the government protect the country from terrorist attacks. Obama and White House representatives have said repeatedly that Snowden must face the charges against him and that he'll be afforded a fair trial. In the U.S., a pardon is "an expression of the president's forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant's acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence," according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. It does not signify innocence. Also on Friday, David Kaye urged Obama to consider a pardon for Snowden. Kaye, the special rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the freedom of expression, said U.S. law doesn't allow Snowden to argue that his disclosures were made for the benefit of the public. The jury would merely be asked to decide whether Snowden stole government secrets and distributed them -- something Snowden himself concedes he did. In response to the petition, Edward Snowden tweeted: "Whether or not this President ends the war on whistleblowers, you've sent a message to history: I feared no one would care. I was wrong."
Earth

Moon Express Raises $20 Million In Series B-1, Fully Funds Trip To The Moon (techcrunch.com) 60

The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
United States

Congress Will Consider Proposal To Raise H-1B Minimum Wage To $100,000 (arstechnica.com) 526

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President-elect Donald Trump is just a week away from taking office. From the start of his campaign, he has promised big changes to the US immigration system. For both Trump's advisers and members of Congress, the H-1B visa program, which allows many foreign workers to fill technology jobs, is a particular focus. One major change to that system is already under discussion: making it harder for companies to use H-1B workers to replace Americans by simply giving the foreign workers a raise. The "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act," introduced last week by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Scott Peters, D-Calif., would significantly raise the wages of workers who get H-1B visas. If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage paid to H-1B workers would rise to at least $100,000 annually, and be adjusted it for inflation. Right now, the minimum is $60,000. The sponsors say that would go a long way toward fixing some of the abuses of the H-1B program, which critics say is currently used to simply replace American workers with cheaper, foreign workers. In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program. (The 10th is Microsoft.) The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off. "We need to ensure we can retain the world's best and brightest talent," said Issa in a statement about the bill. "At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers." The H-1B program offers 65,000 visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign workers who have advanced degrees from US colleges and universities. The visas are awarded by lottery each year. Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for those visas.
The Internet

Virginia 'Broadband Deployment Act' Would Kill Municipal Broadband Deployment (arstechnica.com) 199

Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act," but instead of resulting in more broadband deployment, the legislation would make it more difficult for municipalities to offer Internet service. From a report: The Virginia House of Delegates legislation proposed this week by Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. Among other things, a locality wouldn't be allowed to offer Internet service if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. That speed threshold is low enough that it can be met by old DSL lines in areas that haven't received more modern cable and fiber networks. Even if that condition is met, a city or town would have to jump through a few hoops before offering service. The municipality would have to pay for a "comprehensive broadband assessment," and then issue a request for proposals giving for-profit ISPs six months to submit a plan for broadband deployment. After receiving proposals from private ISPs, the local government would have to determine whether providing grants or subsidies to a private ISP would be more cost-effective than building a municipal broadband network.
Earth

US Puts Bumblebee On the Endangered Species List For First Time (npr.org) 126

For the first time for a bumblebee and a bee species in the U.S., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the bumblebee an endangered species. The protected status goes into effect on February 10, and includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan. NPR reports: "Today's Endangered Species listing is the best -- and probably last -- hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumble bee," NRDC Senior Attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement from the Xerces Society, which advocates for invertebrates. "Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers." Large parts of the Eastern and Midwestern United States were once crawling with these bees, Bombus affinis, but the bees have suffered a dramatic decline in the last two decades due to habitat loss and degradation, along with pathogens and pesticides. Indeed, the bee was found in 31 states and Canadian provinces before the mid- to late-1990s, according to the final rule published in the Federal Register. But since 2000, it has been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada. It has seen an 88 percent decline in the number of populations and an 87 percent loss in the amount of territory it inhabits. This means the species is vulnerable to extinction, the rule says, even without further habitat loss or insecticide exposure. Canada designated the species as endangered in 2012.
Medicine

Rural Americans At Higher Risk From Five Leading Causes of Death: CDC (cbsnews.com) 371

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from five leading causes of death than people living in urban areas, according to a new government report. Many of these deaths are preventable, officials say, with causes including heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease. Approximately 46 million Americans -- about 15 percent of the U.S. population -- currently live in rural areas. According to the CDC report, several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors might put rural residents at higher risk of death from these conditions. Rural residents in the U.S., for example, tend to be older and sicker than their urban counterparts, and have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. People living in rural areas also report less leisure-time physical activity and lower seatbelt use than their those living in urban areas and have higher rates of poverty, less access to health care, and are less likely to have health insurance. Specifically, the report found that in 2014, deaths among rural Americans included: 25,000 from heart disease; 19,000 from cancer; 12,000 from unintentional injuries; 11,000 from chronic lower respiratory disease; 4,000 from stroke. The percentages of deaths that were potentially preventable were higher in rural areas than in urban areas, the authors report. For the study, the researchers analyzed numbers from a national database. The CDC suggests to help close the gap, health care providers in rural areas can: Screen patients for high blood pressure; Increase cancer prevention and early detection; Encourage physical activity and healthy eating; Promote smoking cessation; Promote motor vehicle safety; Engage in safer prescribing of opioids for pain.
Privacy

Switzerland Agrees To Its Own New Data Sharing Pact With the US (silicon.co.uk) 15

Mickeycaskill quotes a report from Silicon.co.uk: Switzerland has agreed its own new data transfer agreement with the United States, basing the framework on the deal struck by the European Union (EU) following the invalidation of Safe Harbour. The previous arrangement was invalidated because of concerns about U.S. mass surveillance but Switzerland says the new Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield will allow Swiss companies to transfer customer data without the need for additional contractual guarantees. The Swiss Federal Council, a seven member executive council that is effectively the head of government in Switzerland, claim citizens will benefit from additional protections and the ability to contact an ombudsman about data issues. Although not part of the EU, Switzerland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and has several bilateral agreements with the EU that sees it adopt many of the bigger bloc's policies. The Federal Council says the alignment between the EU and the Swiss transatlantic data sharing partnerships is good news for multinational organizations.
Government

Obama Changed Rules Regarding Raw Intelligence, Allowing NSA To Share Raw Data With US's Other 16 Intelligence Agencies (schneier.com) 200

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Schneier on Security: President Obama has changed the rules regarding raw intelligence, allowing the NSA to share raw data with the U.S.'s other 16 intelligence agencies. The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches. The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people. Here are the new procedures. This rule change has been in the works for a while. Here are two blog posts from April discussing the then-proposed changes.
Medicine

Arizona Plans To Sue Theranos Over Faulty Blood Tests (techcrunch.com) 31

An anonymous reader shares a TechCrunch report: The Arizona attorney general is soliciting outside legal counsel to pursue a consumer fraud lawsuit against the beleaguered blood testing startup Theranos, according to a document posted on the state's procurement website. AZ's AG has so far declined to comment on any action, but the document contends Theranos may have defrauded customers in the state and the office is now seeking proposals to assist it in possible legal action "against Theranos, Inc. and its closely related subsidiaries for violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act arising out of Theranos Inc.'s long-running scheme of deceptive acts and misrepresentations relating to the capabilities and operation of Theranos blood testing equipment." Theranos ran its consumer portion of the business in Arizona and even worked with the state government to change laws allowing consumers to request blood tests without a doctor's permission. But, as the document cites, a myriad bad test results, including those raised in a series of Wall street Journal articles, raised concerns with the attorney general's office.
Businesses

Amazon To Add 100,000 Full-Time US Jobs in Next 18 Months (geekwire.com) 185

An anonymous reader shares a GeekWire report: Amazon just made a big statement about its continued growth aspirations, announcing that it plans to add another 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. over the next 18 months, an increase of more than 55 percent in its domestic workforce. The growth would push Amazon's U.S. workforce to more than 280,000 people by mid 2018. Amazon said in an announcement that the jobs will be available to people "all across the country and with all types of experience, education and skill levels -- from engineers and software developers to those seeking entry-level positions and on-the-job training."
Government

Hacker Steals 900 GB of Cellebrite Data (vice.com) 69

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: Motherboard has obtained 900 GB of data related to Cellebrite, one of the most popular companies in the mobile phone hacking industry. The cache includes customer information, databases, and a vast amount of technical data regarding Cellebrite's products. The breach is the latest chapter in a growing trend of hackers taking matters into their own hands, and stealing information from companies that specialize in surveillance or hacking technologies. Cellebrite is an Israeli company whose main product, a typically laptop-sized device called the Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED), can rip data from thousands of different models of mobile phones. That data can include SMS messages, emails, call logs, and much more, as long as the UFED user is in physical possession of the phone.
Government

Pentagon Successfully Tests Micro-Drone Swarm (phys.org) 113

schwit1 quotes a report from Phys.Org: The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones. The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction. Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers. The test of the micro-drone swarm in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.
Businesses

Volkswagen Closes In on $4.3 Billion US Settlement in Diesel Scandal (bloomberg.com) 123

Volkswagen said it's closing in on a deal with U.S. authorities on a $4.3 billion settlement to resolve civil and criminal allegations stemming from its emissions-cheating scandal. From a report on Bloomberg: The agreement, which has yet to be finalized, would lead to a financial expense that exceeds current provisions, the German automaker said. It also includes a guilty plea to some criminal charges, strengthening compliance systems and installing an independent monitor for three years, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker said Tuesday in a statement. VW's management and supervisory boards are scheduled to review the settlement today or Wednesday and may raise provisions related to the scandal, which currently total 18.2 billion euros ($19.2 billion). A final agreement also needs to be approved by U.S. courts. The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on Volkswagen's statement.
Earth

2016 Was Second Hottest Year For US In More Than 120 Years of Record Keeping (climatecentral.org) 435

Last year was the second hottest year for the United States in more than 120 years of record keeping, according to the National Climatic Data Center, marking 20 above-average years in a row. While Georgia and Alaska recorded their hottest year, every state had a temperature ranking at least in the top seven. Climate Central reports: The announcement comes a week before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released the U.S. data, and NASA are expected to announce that 2016 set the record for the hottest year globally. Both the global record and the U.S. near-record are largely attributable to greenhouse gas-driven warming of the planet. In addition to the pervasive warmth over the last year, the U.S. also had to deal with 15 weather and climate disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damage. Together, they totaled more than $46 billion in losses and included several disastrous rain-driven flooding events. These events, along with continued drought, lay bare the challenge for the country to learn how to cope with and prepare for a changing climate, said Deke Arndt, the climate monitoring chief of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. The temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for 2016, displacing 2015 and ranking only behind 2012, when searing heat waves hit the middle of the country. More notable than the back-to-back second place years, Arndt said, was that 2016 was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the U.S. and that the five hottest years for the country have all happened since 1998. Those streaks mirror global trends, with 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurring in the 21st century and no record cold year globally since 1911.
The Military

US Military Seeks Biodegradable Bullets That Sprout Plants (newatlas.com) 285

The Department of Defense is looking at ways to clean up the hundreds of thousands of training rounds used by the U.S. army. It is putting out the call for the development of biodegradable ammunition loaded with seeds that sprout plans after being discharged. New Atlas reports: At military facilities across the U.S. and indeed around the world, a huge number of rounds are fired for training purposes, ranging from low-velocity 40 mm grenades, to mortars, to 155 mm artillery rounds. All of these feature components that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and falling onto the ground in such great numbers means that finding and cleaning them up is no small task. But left behind, they can corrode and pollute the soil and water supplies. So the Department of Defense has put out a call for proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research agency that solve the problem. The DoD describes the solution as a naturally occurring biodegradable material that can replace those used in current training rounds. It imagines that the biodegradable composites will be capable of holding bioengineered seeds inside (a technology it says has been demonstrated previously), that won't germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. Then plants will sprout from the discharged ammunition that actively remove soil contaminants and consume the other biodegradable components. Also imperative is that animals are able to safely consume the plants.

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