Businesses

Now Hiring For a Fascinating New Kind of Job That Only a Human Can Do: Babysit a Robot (wired.com) 16

From a report: Book a night at LAX's Residence Inn and you may be fortunate enough to meet an employee named Wally. His gig is relatively pedestrian -- bring you room service, navigate around the hotel's clientele in the lobby and halls -- but Wally's life is far more difficult than it seems. If you put a tray out in front of your door, for instance, he can't get to you. If a cart is blocking the hall, he can't push it out of the way. But fortunately for Wally, whenever he gets into a spot of trouble, he can call out for help. See, Wally is a robot -- specifically, a Relay robot from a company called Savioke. And when the machine finds itself in a particularly tricky situation, it relies on human agents in a call center way across the country in Pennsylvania to bail it out. [...]

The first companies to unleash robots into service sectors have been quietly opening call centers stocked with humans who monitor the machines and help them get out of jams. "It's something that's just starting to emerge, and it's not just robots," says David Poole, CEO and co-founder of Symphony Ventures, which consults companies on automation. "I think there is going to be a huge industry, probably mostly offshore, in the monitoring of devices in general, whether they're health devices that individuals wear or monitoring pacemakers or whatever it might be."

Democrats

Democrats Are Just One Vote Shy of Restoring Net Neutrality (engadget.com) 109

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer now says Democrats in the Senate are a single vote away from restoring net neutrality. According to the senator from New York, they now have a total of 50 votes for a Senate resolution of disapproval that would restore the Open Internet Order of 2015 and deliver a stiff rebuke to Ajit Pai and other Republican members of the FCC. It would also prevent the agency from passing a similar measure in the future, all but guaranteeing Net Neutrality is permanently preserved. Right now the resolution has the support of all 49 Democrats in the Senate and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. But Schumer and the rest of the caucus will have to win over one more Republican vote to prevent Vice President Mike Pence from breaking tie and allowing the repeal to stand. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate has 60 days to challenge a decision by an independent agency like the FCC. Democrats have less than 30 days to convince a "moderate" like John McCain or Lindsey Graham to buck their party. Further reading: The Washington Post (paywalled)
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 183

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Software

'Very High Level of Confidence' Russia Used Kaspersky Software For Devastating NSA Leaks (yahoo.com) 200

bricko shares a report from Yahoo Finance: Three months after U.S. officials asserted that Russian intelligence used popular antivirus company Kaspersky to steal U.S. classified information, there are indications that the alleged espionage is related to a public campaign of highly damaging NSA leaks by a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers. In August 2016, the Shadow Brokers began leaking classified NSA exploit code that amounted to hacking manuals. In October 2017, U.S. officials told major U.S. newspapers that Russian intelligence leveraged software sold by Kaspersky to exfiltrate classified documents from certain computers. (Kaspersky software, like all antivirus software, requires access to everything stored on a computer so that it can scan for malicious software.) And last week the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators "now believe that those manuals [leaked by Shadow Brokers] may have been obtained using Kaspersky to scan computers on which they were stored." Members of the computer security industry agree with that suspicion. "I think there's a very high level of confidence that the Shadow Brokers dump was directly related to Kaspersky ... and it's very much attributable," David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, told Yahoo Finance. "Unfortunately, we can only hear that from the intelligence side about how they got that information to see if it's legitimate."
The Almighty Buck

OnePlus Customers Report Credit Card Fraud After Buying From the Company's Website (androidpolice.com) 51

If you purchased a OnePlus smartphone recently from the official OnePlus website, you might want to check your transactions to make sure there aren't any you don't recognize. "A poll was posted on the OnePlus forum on Thursday asking users if they had noticed fraudulent charges on their credit cards since purchasing items on the OnePlus site," reports Android Police. "More than 70 respondents confirmed that they had been affected, with the majority saying they had bought from the site within the past 2 months." From the report: A number of FAQs and answers follow, in which OnePlus confirms that only customers who made credit card payments are affected, not those who used PayPal. Apparently, card info isn't stored on the site but is instead sent directly to a "PCI-DSS-compliant payment processing partner" over an encrypted connection. [...] OnePlus goes on to say that intercepting information should be extremely difficult as the site is HTTPS encrypted, but that it is nevertheless carrying out a complete audit. In the meantime, affected customers are advised to contact their credit card companies immediately to get the payments canceled/reversed (called a chargeback). OnePlus will continue to investigate alongside its third-party service providers, and promises to update with its findings as soon as possible.

According to infosec firm Fidus, there is actually a brief window in which data could be intercepted. Between entering your card details into the form and hitting 'submit,' the details are apparently hosted on-site, which could give attackers all the time they need to steal those precious digits and head off on a spending spree. Fidus also notes that the company doesn't appear to be PCI-compliant, but that directly contradicts OnePlus' own statement. We'll have to wait until more details emerge before we pass judgment.
Here's OnePlus' official statement on the matter: "At OnePlus, we take information privacy extremely seriously. Over the weekend, members of the OnePlus community reported cases of unknown credit card transactions occurring on their credit cards post purchase from oneplus.net. We immediately began to investigate as a matter of urgency, and will keep you updated. This FAQ document will be updated to address questions raised."
The Almighty Buck

City-Owned Internet Services Offer Cheaper and More Transparent Pricing, Says Harvard Study (arstechnica.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper entry-level prices than private Internet providers, and the city-run networks also make it easier for customers to find out the real price of service, a new study from Harvard University researchers found. Researchers collected advertised prices for entry-level broadband plans -- those meeting the federal standard of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds -- offered by 40 community-owned ISPs and compared them to advertised prices from private competitors. The report by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard doesn't provide a complete picture of municipal vs. private pricing. But that's largely because data about private ISPs' prices is often more difficult to get than information about municipal network pricing, the report says. In cases where the researchers were able to compare municipal prices to private ISP prices, the city-run networks almost always offered lower prices. This may help explain why the broadband industry has repeatedly fought against the expansion of municipal broadband networks.
Firefox

Mozilla Tests Firefox 'Tab Warming' (bleepingcomputer.com) 155

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Mozilla is currently testing a new feature called "Tab Warming" that engineers hope will improve the tab switching process. According to a description of the feature, Tab Warming will watch the user's mouse cursor and start "painting" content inside a tab whenever the user hovers his mouse over one. Firefox will do this on the assumption the user wants to click and switch to view that tab and will want to keep a pre-rendered tab on hand if this occurs. "Those precious milliseconds are used to do the rendering and uploading, so that when the click event finally comes, the [tab] is ready and waiting for you," said Mike Conley, one of the Firefox engineers who worked on this feature.
The Almighty Buck

Canadian Charged With Running LeakedSource.com, Selling Stolen Info (reuters.com) 25

A Canadian man accused of operating the LeakedSource.com website, a major repository of stolen online credentials, has been arrested and charged with trafficking in billions of stolen personal identity records, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Monday. From a report: The site, which was shut down in early 2017, had collected details from a string of major breaches and made them accessible and searchable for a fee. The man, 27-year-old Jordan Evan Bloom, is due to appear in a Toronto court on Monday to hear charges that as administrator of the site he collected some C$247,000 from the sale of stolen records and associated passwords.
Bitcoin

Researchers Find That One Person Likely Drove Bitcoin From $150 to $1,000 (techcrunch.com) 110

An anonymous reader shares a report: Researchers Neil Gandal, JT Hamrick, Tyler Moore, and Tali Oberman have written a fascinating paper on Bitcoin price manipulation. Entitled "Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem" and appearing in the recent issue of the Journal of Monetary Economics the paper describes to what degree the Bitcoin ecosystem is controlled by bad actors. To many it's been obvious that the Bitcoin markets are, at the very least, being manipulated by one or two big players. "This paper identifies and analyzes the impact of suspicious trading activity on the Mt. Gox Bitcoin currency exchange, in which approximately 600,000 bitcoins (BTC) valued at $188 million were fraudulently acquired," the researchers wrote.

"During both periods, the USD-BTC exchange rate rose by an average of four percent on days when suspicious trades took place, compared to a slight decline on days without suspicious activity. Based on rigorous analysis with extensive robustness checks, the paper demonstrates that the suspicious trading activity likely caused the unprecedented spike in the USD-BTC exchange rate in late 2013, when the rate jumped from around $150 to more than $1,000 in two months." The team found that many instances of price manipulation happened simply because the market was very thin for various cryptocurrencies including early Bitcoin.

Businesses

Ford is Throwing $11 Billion at Its Electric Car Problem (theverge.com) 163

Ford said on Monday it will boost its investment in electric vehicles to $11 billion in the next five years, more than doubling a previous commitment. Company's chairman Bill Ford said the car maker would have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its range by the same period. It comes as countries around the world put more pressure on car makers to rein in carbon emissions. From a report: It was a dramatic escalation in Ford's crosstown rivalry with General Motors, which has seen its stock prices rise thanks to its commitments to both electrification and autonomy. GM has said it plans to roll out at least 20 new electric cars by 2023, a goal that puts it in a position to bring battery-powered driving to the mainstream. Last week, it unveiled a concept autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval has had a challenging 2017. It remains strongly profitable, but its sale are stagnant, its costs have increased faster than expected, and its margins have failed to meet targets.
Bitcoin

Cryptocurrency Traders in South Korea Face Fines For Virtual Accounts (yonhapnews.co.kr) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: Cryptocurrency investors in South Korea will be fined for refusing to convert their virtual accounts into real-name ones, financial authorities said Sunday. The move comes as South Korea is scrambling to rein in the virtual currency frenzy in Asia's fourth-largest economy, including preparations for a bill to ban cryptocurrency exchanges at home. According to the authorities, cryptocurrency traders will be allowed to convert their virtual accounts into real-name ones within this month, but those who refuse to accede to real-name identification will face fines.
EU

City of Barcelona Dumps Windows For Linux and Open Source Software (europa.eu) 237

An anonymous reader quotes Open Source Observatory: The City of Barcelona is migrating its computer systems away from the Windows platform, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. The City's strategy is first to replace all user applications with open-source alternatives, until the underlying Windows operating system is the only proprietary software remaining. In a final step, the operating system will be replaced with Linux... According to Francesca Bria, the Commissioner of Technology and Digital Innovation at the City Council, the transition will be completed before the current administration's mandate ends in spring 2019. For starters, the Outlook mail client and Exchange Server will be replaced with Open-Xchange. In a similar fashion, Internet Explorer and Office will be replaced with Firefox and LibreOffice, respectively. The Linux distribution eventually used will probably be Ubuntu, since the City of Barcelona is already running 1,000 Ubuntu-based desktops as part of a pilot...

Barcelona is the first municipality to have joined the European campaign 'Public Money, Public Code'. This campaign is an initiative of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and revolves around an open letter advocating that publicly funded software should be free. Currently, this call to public agencies is supported by more than 100 organisations and almost 15,000 individuals. With the new open-source strategy, Barcelona's City Council aims to avoid spending large amounts of money on licence-based software and to reduce its dependence on proprietary suppliers through contracts that in some cases have been closed for decades.

Power

California Will Close Its Last Nuclear Power Plant (sfchronicle.com) 319

An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: California's last nuclear power plant -- Diablo Canyon, whose contentious birth helped shape the modern environmental movement -- will close in 2025, state utility regulators decided Thursday. The unanimous vote by the California Public Utilities Commission will likely bring an end to nuclear energy's long history in the state. State law forbids building more nuclear plants in California until the federal government creates a long-term solution for dealing with their waste, a goal that remains elusive despite decades of effort.

The decision comes even as California expands its fight against global warming. Owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Diablo Canyon is the state's largest power plant, supplying 9 percent of California's electricity while producing no greenhouse gases. "With this decision, we chart a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California," said commission President Michael Picker. "We've looked hard at all the arguments, and we agree the time has come."

The Almighty Buck

Hackers Hijack DNS For Lumens Cryptocurrency Site 'BlackWallet', Steal $400,000 (bleepingcomputer.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: Unknown hackers (or hacker) have hijacked the DNS server for BlackWallet.co, a web-based wallet application for the Stellar Lumen cryptocurrency (XLM), and have stolen over $400,000 from users' accounts. The attack happened late Saturday afternoon (UTC timezone), January 13, when the attackers hijacked the DNS entry of the BlackWallet.co domain and redirected it to their own server. "The DNS hijack of Blackwallet injected code," said Kevin Beaumont, a security researcher who analyzed the code before the BlackWallet team regained access over their domain and took down the site. "If you had over 20 Lumens it pushes them to a different wallet," Beaumont added...

According to Bleeping Computer's calculations, as of writing, the attacker collected 669,920 Lumens, which is about $400,192 at the current XML/USD exchange rate. The BlackWallet team and other XLM owners have tried to warn users via alerts on Reddit, Twitter, GitHub, the Stellar Community and GalacticTalk forums, but to no avail, as users continued to log into the rogue BlackWallet.co domain, enter their credentials, and then see funds mysteriously vanish from their wallets.

Open Source

20 Years Later, Has Open Source Changed the World? (infoworld.com) 195

"Most code remains closed and proprietary, even though open source now dominates enterprise platforms," notes Matt Asay, former COO at Canonical (and an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative). "How can that be?" he asks, in an essay noting it's been almost 20 years since the launch of the Open Source Initiative, arguing that so far open source "hasn't changed the world as promised." [T]he reason most software remains locked up within the four walls of enterprise firewalls is that it's too costly with too small of an ROI to justify open-sourcing it. At least, that's the perception. Such a perception is impossible to break without walking the open source path, which companies are unwilling to walk without upfront proof. See the problem? This chicken-and-egg conundrum is starting to resolve itself, thanks to the forward-looking efforts of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other web giants that are demonstrating the value of open-sourcing code.

Although it's unlikely that a State Farm or Chevron will ever participate in the same way as a Microsoft, we are starting to see companies like Bloomberg and Capital One get involved in open source in ways they never would have considered back when the term "open source" was coined in 1997, much less in 2007. It's a start. Let's also not forget that although we have seen companies use more open source code over the past 20 years, the biggest win for open source since its inception is how it has changed the narrative of how innovation happens in software. We're starting to believe, and for good reason, that the best, most innovative software is open source.

The article strikes a hopeful note. "We're now comfortable with the idea that software can, and maybe should, be open source without the world ending. The actual opening of that source, however, is something to tackle in the next 20 years.
Music

Japan's Latest Sensation is a Cryptocurrency Pop Group (engadget.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: If you're starting a pop group in Japan, where giant rosters and virtual superstars are par for the course, how do you stand out? By tying yourself to something trendy -- and in 2018, that means cryptocurrency. Meet Kasotsuka Shojo (Virtual Currency Girls), a J-pop group where each of the eight girls represents one of the larger digital monetary formats. Yes, you're supposed to cheer for bitcoin or swoon over ethereum (what, no litecoin?). The group played its first concert on January 12th, and naturally you had to pay in cryptocurrency to be one of the few members of the general public to get in. The group's first single, "The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me," warns listeners about the perils of fraud and extols the virtues of good online security.
"It isn't clear how French maid outfits symbolize cryptocurrency or blockchain technology," notes Quartz, "but they're popular costumes in Japan's anime and cosplay circles."
Government

Chelsea Manning Files to Run for U.S. Senate in Maryland (washingtonpost.com) 301

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post: Chelsea E. Manning, the transgender former Army private who was convicted of passing sensitive government documents to WikiLeaks, is seeking to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, according to federal election filings. Manning would be challenging Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, who is in his second term in the Senate and is up for reelection in November. Cardin is Maryland's senior senator and is considered an overwhelming favorite to win a third term... However, a candidate with national name recognition, such as Manning, who comes in from the outside could tap a network of donors interested in elevating a progressive agenda...

Evan Greer, campaign director of the nonprofit organization Fight for the Future and a close supporter of Manning's while she was imprisoned, said the news is exciting. "Chelsea Manning has fought for freedom and sacrificed for it in ways that few others have," Greer wrote in an email. "The world is a better place with her as a free woman, and this latest news makes it clear she is only beginning to make her mark on it."

The Almighty Buck

Warren Buffett Predicts 'Bad Ending' for Cryptocurrencies (cnbc.com) 324

"97% of all bitcoins are held by 4% of addresses," reports Credit Suisse (in an article cited by Slashdot reader CaptainDork). And elsewhere this week, Warren Buffett told CNBC that speculation in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies "will have a bad ending," adding that looking out five years he'd gladly bet against all of the cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana has his own skepticism: I am predisposed to view them as just speculative tokens in a cryptocurrency bubble that has inflated more quickly than any other in financial market history. Admittedly I'm green with envy for failing to foresee the explosive rally in the price of bitcoin when it was first brought to my attention several years ago. Having said that, there are many things I find quite ironic about how bitcoin and other "cryptos" are described. First, they are largely denominated, or discussed, in U.S. dollar terms... If the dollar is archaic, as the crypto-enthusiasts believe, why not speak only in crypto-terms...?

It's much easier to buy and sell dollars, stocks or commodities than it is to trade bitcoin and its brethren. The conversion of one crypto to another is relatively easy on these embryonic exchanges. But getting your digital wealth converted into cold hard cash is more problematic... And while the growth has been impressive, it remains very difficult to walk into any establishment and exchange a digital token for goods or services.

The article notes that the U.S. dollar still accounts for 65% of all global economic transactions, due to its status as the world's reserve currency, and concludes that "The adoption of cryptocurrencies as a global source of funds has a long way to go before staking a claim to the world's economy."
Cellphones

Fake 'Inbound Missile' Alert Sent To Every Cellphone in Hawaii (chicagotribune.com) 216

"Somebody sent out a false emergency alert to all cell phones in Hawaii saying, 'BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL'," writes Slashdot reader flopwich, adding "Somebody's had better days at work." The Associated Press reports: In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button. "We made a mistake," said Miyagi. For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea...

On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst... The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 114

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."

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