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A New Type Of COVID-19 Vaccine Could Debut Soon

Slashdot - Pon, 2021-06-07 05:34
"A new kind of COVID-19 vaccine could be available as soon as this summer," reports NPR: It's what's known as a protein subunit vaccine. It works somewhat differently from the current crop of vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. but is based on a well-understood technology and doesn't require special refrigeration. In general, vaccines work by showing people's immune systems something that looks like the virus but really isn't. Consider it an advance warning; if the real virus ever turns up, the immune system is ready to try to squelch it. In the case of the coronavirus, that "something" is one of the proteins in the virus — the spike protein. The vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer contain genetic instructions for the spike protein, and it's up to the cells in our bodies to make the protein itself. The first protein subunit COVID-19 vaccine to become available will likely come from the biotech company, Novavax. In contrast to the three vaccines already authorized in the U.S., it contains the spike protein itself — no need to make it, it's already made — along with an adjuvant that enhances the immune system's response, to make the vaccine even more protective. Protein subunit vaccines made this way have been around for a while. There are vaccines on the market for hepatitis B and pertussis based on this technology. And meanwhile, the article points out, there's also another company — the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi — that's also working on its own protein subunit vaccine against the coronavirus.

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Sidewalk Robots are Now Delivering Food in Miami

Slashdot - Pon, 2021-06-07 02:55
18-inch tall robots on four wheels zipping across city sidewalks "stopped people in their tracks as they whipped out their camera phones," reports the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "The bots' mission: To deliver restaurant meals cheaply and efficiently, another leap in the way food comes to our doors and our tables." The semiautonomous vehicles were engineered by Kiwibot, a company started in 2017 to game-change the food delivery landscape... In May, Kiwibot sent a 10-robot fleet to Miami as part of a nationwide pilot program funded by the Knight Foundation. The program is driven to understand how residents and consumers will interact with this type of technology, especially as the trend of robot servers grows around the country. And though Broward County is of interest to Kiwibot, Miami-Dade County officials jumped on board, agreeing to launch robots around neighborhoods such as Brickell, downtown Miami and several others, in the next couple of weeks... "Our program is completely focused on the residents of Miami-Dade County and the way they interact with this new technology. Whether it's interacting directly or just sharing the space with the delivery bots," said Carlos Cruz-Casas, with the county's Department of Transportation... Remote supervisors use real-time GPS tracking to monitor the robots. Four cameras are placed on the front, back and sides of the vehicle, which the supervisors can view on a computer screen. [A spokesperson says later in the article "there is always a remote and in-field team looking for the robot."] If crossing the street is necessary, the robot will need a person nearby to ensure there is no harm to cars or pedestrians. The plan is to allow deliveries up to a mile and a half away so robots can make it to their destinations in 30 minutes or less. Earlier Kiwi tested its sidewalk-travelling robots around the University of California at Berkeley, where at least one of its robots burst into flames. But the Sun-Sentinel reports that "In about six months, at least 16 restaurants came on board making nearly 70,000 deliveries... "Kiwibot now offers their robotic delivery services in other markets such as Los Angeles and Santa Monica by working with the Shopify app to connect businesses that want to employ their robots." But while delivery fees are normally $3, this new Knight Foundation grant "is making it possible for Miami-Dade County restaurants to sign on for free." A video shows the reactions the sidewalk robots are getting from pedestrians on a sidewalk, a dog on a leash, and at least one potential restaurant customer looking forward to no longer having to tip human food-delivery workers.

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Geologists Marvel at Alaska Glacier's Rare 'Surge' -- Up to 60 Feet a Day

Slashdot - Pon, 2021-06-07 01:24
The hills of ice at the base of Alaska's Muldrow Glacier "have sat undisturbed and covered by tundra for more than 60 years," reports the Washington Post, adding that in normal years the glacier only moves about three inches a day. But that's suddenly changed, and they're now moving between 360 and 720 inches a day (that is, 30 to 60 feet, every day). The rare phenomenon began last fall some 12 miles uphill. That's where the glacier initially started sliding, its smooth surface ice cracking under tremendous, hidden stresses. New crevasses opened and ice cliffs were pushed up in a chaotic jumble. The first witness was a pilot who spied the scene in March as he flew around the north side of Denali, the continent's tallest mountain. The Muldrow has been "surging" forward ever since, at speeds up to 100 times faster than normal.... Surges are one of the last mysteries for those who study glaciers, in part because they happen so infrequently and in just a fraction of places around the world. The activity is different from a glacier actually growing in size, and it can take decades for the right conditions to develop.... The prevailing theory of surges is that the natural advance of a glacier causes friction, which melts the deepest ice. Loose gravel traps the meltwater underneath. But as snow and ice accumulate in the glacier's higher elevations, the mass there gets top heavy. A surge redistributes that mass to lower elevations, with the meltwater serving as a lubricant that helps the glacier pick up speed as it slides downhill. This last happened with the Muldrow during the winter and spring of 1956-57. Given its record of surges roughly every 50 years, scientists had long anticipated the current event. Their concern is that a warming climate could spell disaster for future surges. "You wonder, 'Are you going to ever be able to see the surge again?' " said Chad Hults, regional geologist for Alaska's national parks. "I don't know, because 50 years from now, you might lose enough glacier ice that even if it surges... you might not actually even be able to see any difference." For most of the glaciologists and geologists tracking today's surge, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. The article also reminds readers that "across the Alaska Range, glaciers are losing mass because of climate change."

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Walmart Will Give 740,000 Employees a Free Smartphone

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 23:39
"Walmart will give 740,000 employees free Samsung smartphones by the end of the year," reports CBS News, "so they can use a new app to manage schedules, the company announced Thursday." The phone, the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro, can also be used for personal use, and the company will provide free cases and protection plans. The phone's retail price is currently $499... Up until now, associates at Walmart stores used handheld devices they shared to communicate, but an initial test with employee smartphones was received well and will now be expanded upon, Walmart said... The company promised that it would not have access to any employee's personal data and can "use the smartphone as their own personal device if they want, with all the features and privacy they're used to." The test will be expanded by the end of the year, Walmart said. Earlier this year, Walmart announced pay increases for nearly a third of its U.S. workforce of 1.6 million. In February, digital and store workers saw their starting hourly rates increase from $13 to $19 depending on their location and market.

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Windows 10 Notifies Users They Should Make Bing Their Browser's Default Search Engine

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 22:41
Today ZDNet's "Technically Incorrect" columnist Chris Matyszczyk discussed a new pop-up message that's now appearing in Windows 10's notification center. It's warning Windows users that "Microsoft recommends different browser settings. Want to change them?" The notification adds that you'll get "Search that gives you back time and money." And "fast and secure search results with Bing." Oh, yes. Bing, the MySpace to Google's Facebook, is still being pushed. I learned that this Bing-pushing is pushing Windows users' buttons. There's a little Reddit thread where you'll see laments such as: "You're not the first to have this Microsoft Annoyance. Apparently, there are thousands in front of you." The most poignant, perhaps, was this: "Miserably I get this despite using Edge AND having Bing set as my default search engine... (the latter of which for Microsoft Rewards). I think the 'problem' is that not ALL of my browsers had Bing as the default search engine? Which is ridiculous because I never use Chrome or Firefox anyway. But after clicking the popup, it ludicrously opened up all my browsers...." What's most distressing is the lack of any attempt at charm or humor in these notifications. Are they all written by engineers? Or robots, perhaps...? Perhaps Microsoft believes that irritation works. Perhaps it simply has no better ideas to persuade anyone to try Bing. And really, it's not as if Redmond is alone in pursuing this sort of communication. Why, I've even had Apple notifying me of its angry feelings whenever I open, oh, Microsoft Edge.

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RISC Vs. CISC Is the Wrong Lens For Comparing Modern x86, ARM CPUs

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 21:39
Long-time Slashdot reader Dputiger writes: Go looking for the difference between x86 and ARM CPUs, and you'll run into the idea of CISC versus RISC immediately. But 40 years after the publication of David Patterson and David Ditzel's 1981 paper, "The Case for a Reduced Instruction Set Computer," CISC and RISC are poor top-level categories for comparing these two CPU families. ExtremeTech writes: The problem with using RISC versus CISC as a lens for comparing modern x86 versus ARM CPUs is that it takes three specific attributes that matter to the x86 versus ARM comparison — process node, microarchitecture, and ISA — crushes them down to one, and then declares ARM superior on the basis of ISA alone. The ISA-centric argument acknowledges that manufacturing geometry and microarchitecture are important and were historically responsible for x86's dominance of the PC, server, and HPC market. This view holds that when the advantages of manufacturing prowess and install base are controlled for or nullified, RISC — and by extension, ARM CPUs — will typically prove superior to x86 CPUs. The implementation-centric argument acknowledges that ISA can and does matter, but that historically, microarchitecture and process geometry have mattered more. Intel is still recovering from some of the worst delays in the company's history. AMD is still working to improve Ryzen, especially in mobile. Historically, both x86 manufacturers have demonstrated an ability to compete effectively against RISC CPU manufacturers. Given the reality of CPU design cycles, it's going to be a few years before we really have an answer as to which argument is superior. One difference between the semiconductor market of today and the market of 20 years ago is that TSMC is a much stronger foundry competitor than most of the RISC manufacturers Intel faced in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Intel's 7nm team has got to be under tremendous pressure to deliver on that node. Nothing in this story should be read to imply that an ARM CPU can't be faster and more efficient than an x86 CPU.

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ROM Site Owner Made $30,000 a Year -- Now Owes Nintendo $2.1 Million

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 20:39
An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: The now-unemployed owner of a shuttered ROM distribution site has been ordered to pay $2.1 million in damages to Nintendo after trying and failing to defend himself in the case. In September 2019, Nintendo filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles resident Matthew Storman over his operation of RomUniverse.com, which offered prominent downloads of "Nintendo Switch Scene Roms" and other copyrighted game files. At the time, Nintendo said that the site had been "among the most visited and notorious online hubs for pirated Nintendo video games" for "over a decade." Storman has admitted that, in 2019, the site made up the bulk of his $30,000 to $36,000 a year in income. This included direct revenue from the sale of "premium unlimited accounts" for $30 per year that provided users with faster downloads and no limits. By the time Storman signed a September 2020 agreement with Nintendo to shut the site down, he said he was deriving $800 a month from the site. According to court documents, Storman's income is now derived primarily from "unemployment and food stamps." In a motion for dismissal, Storman invoked the "safe harbor" protections of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), arguing that he was just a neutral service provider for users sharing files. He also pointed out that he had agreed to Nintendo's DMCA takedown requests in the past. During a deposition, though, Nintendo got Storman to admit that he had uploaded Nintendo's copyrighted ROM files himself, obliterating any attempts at a "safe harbor" claim... While Nintendo originally claimed that RomUniverse was responsible for "hundreds of thousands" of copyrighted downloads, that number was lowered to 50,000 based on evidence gleaned from screenshots of the site. Nintendo argued that each download cost it between $20 and $60 (the average cost of new games it sells) and that it had therefore lost between $1 and $3 million in revenue.

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Will Labor Shortages Give Workers More Power?

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 19:34
It's been argued that technology (especially automation) will continue weakening the position of workers. But today the senior economics correspondent for The New York Times argues a "profound shift" happening in America is instead something else. "For the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand..." Up and down the wage scale, companies are becoming more willing to pay a little more, to train workers, to take chances on people without traditional qualifications, and to show greater flexibility in where and how people work. The erosion of employer power began during the low-unemployment years leading up to the pandemic and, given demographic trends, could persist for years. March had a record number of open positions, according to federal data that goes back to 2000, and workers were voluntarily leaving their jobs at a rate that matches its historical high. Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that analyzes millions of job listings a day, found that the share of postings that say "no experience necessary" is up two-thirds over 2019 levels, while the share of those promising a starting bonus has doubled. People are demanding more money to take a new job. The "reservation wage," as economists call the minimum compensation workers would require, was 19 percent higher for those without a college degree in March than in November 2019, a jump of nearly $10,000 a year, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York... [T]he demographic picture is not becoming any more favorable for employers eager to fill positions. Population growth for Americans between ages 20 and 64 turned negative last year for the first time in the nation's history. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the potential labor force will grow a mere 0.3 to 0.4 percent annually for the remainder of the 2020s; the size of the work force rose an average of 0.8 percent a year from 2000 to 2020. The article describes managers now "being forced to learn how to operate amid labor scarcity... At the high end of the labor market, that can mean workers are more emboldened to leave a job if employers are insufficiently flexible on issues like working from home..." But it also notes a ride-sharing driver who switched to an IBM apprenticeship for becoming a cloud storage engineer, and former Florida nightclub bouncer Alex Lorick, who became an IBM mainframe technician, "part of a deliberate effort by IBM to rethink how it hires and what counts as a qualification for a given job." [IBM] executives concluded that the qualifications for many jobs were unnecessarily demanding. Postings might require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, for example, in jobs that a six-month training course would adequately prepare a person for. "By creating your own dumb barriers, you're actually making your job in the search for talent harder," said Obed Louissaint, IBM's senior vice president for transformation and culture. In working with managers across the company on training initiatives like the one under which Mr. Lorick was hired, "it's about making managers more accountable for mentoring, developing and building talent versus buying talent." "I think something fundamental is changing, and it's been happening for a while, but now it's accelerating," Mr. Louissaint said.

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Apple's MagSafe Devices May Affect Pacemakers

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 18:34
The American Heart Association is a research-funding nonprofit. One of its publications, The Journal of the American Heart Association, "has concurred with a previous report by the Heart Rhythm Journal which said close contact with an iPhone 12 affected certain implantable cardiac devices," writes Apple Insider. As with that report, the American Heart Association says the effect are solely when the iPhone is on or very near the implant... "Our study demonstrates that magnet reversion mode may be triggered when the iPhone 12 Pro Max is placed directly on the skin over an implantable cardiac device and thus has the potential to inhibit lifesaving therapies," say the report writers in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The testing involved placing the iPhone 12 Pro Max in very close proximity to a series of 11 different pacemakers and defibrillators... The degree of interference did vary across the testing, but all devices were affected. The report says that "the iPhone 12 Pro Max was able to trigger magnetic reversion mode at a distance up to 1.5cm [0.6 inches]." "Apple Inc, has an advisory stating that the newer generation iPhone 12 does not pose a greater risk for magnet interference when compared to the older generation iPhones," notes the report. "However, our study suggests otherwise as magnet response was demonstrated in 3/3 cases in vivo..." In January 2021, Apple updated its MagSafe support document to recommend that users keep the iPhone 12 six inches away from any medical implants.

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EFF Argues 'If Not Overturned, a Bad Copyright Decision Will Lead Many Americans to Lose Internet Access'

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 17:34
The EFF's senior staff attorney and their legal intern are warning that a bad copyright decision by a district court judge could lead many Americans to lose their internet access. "In going after ISPs for the actions of just a few of their users, Sony Music, other major record labels, and music publishing companies have found a way to cut people off of the internet based on mere accusations of copyright infringement." When these music companies sued Cox Communications, an ISP, the court got the law wrong. It effectively decided that the only way for an ISP to avoid being liable for infringement by its users is to terminate a household or business's account after a small number of accusations — perhaps only two. The court also allowed a damages formula that can lead to nearly unlimited damages, with no relationship to any actual harm suffered. If not overturned, this decision will lead to an untold number of people losing vital internet access as ISPs start to cut off more and more customers to avoid massive damages... The district court agreed with Sony that Cox is responsible when its subscribers — home and business internet users — infringe the copyright in music recordings by sharing them on peer-to-peer networks. It effectively found that Cox didn't terminate accounts of supposedly infringing subscribers aggressively enough. An earlier lawsuit found that Cox wasn't protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) safe harbor provisions that protect certain internet intermediaries, including ISPs, if they comply with the DMCA's requirements. One of those requirements is implementing a policy of terminating "subscribers and account holders... who are repeat infringers" in "appropriate circumstances." The court ruled in that earlier case that Cox didn't terminate enough customers who had been accused of infringement by the music companies. In this case, the same court found that Cox was on the hook for the copyright infringement of its customers and upheld the jury verdict of $1 billion in damages — by far the largest amount ever awarded in a copyright case. The District Court got the law wrong... An ISP can be contributorily liable if it knew that a customer infringed on someone else's copyright but didn't take "simple measures" available to it to stop further infringement. Judge O'Grady's jury instructions wrongly implied that because Cox didn't terminate infringing users' accounts, it failed to take "simple measures." But the law doesn't require ISPs to terminate accounts to avoid liability. The district court improperly imported a termination requirement from the DMCA's safe harbor provision (which was already knocked out earlier in the case). In fact, the steps Cox took short of termination actually stopped most copyright infringement — a fact the district court simply ignored. The district court also got it wrong on vicarious liability... [T]he court decided that because Cox could terminate accounts accused of copyright infringement, it had the ability to supervise those accounts. But that's not how other courts have ruled. For example, the Ninth Circuit decided in 2019 that Zillow was not responsible when some of its users uploaded copyrighted photos to real estate listings, even though Zillow could have terminated those users' accounts. In reality, ISPs don't supervise the Internet activity of their users. That would require a level of surveillance and control that users won't tolerate, and that EFF fights against every day. The consequence of getting the law wrong on secondary liability here, combined with the $1 billion damage award, is that ISPs will terminate accounts more frequently to avoid massive damages, and cut many more people off from the internet than is necessary to actually address copyright infringement... They also argue that the termination of accounts is "overly harsh in the case of most copyright infringers" — especially in a country where millions have only one choice for broadband internet access. "Being effectively cut off from society when an ISP terminates your account is excessive, given the actual costs of non-commercial copyright infringement to large corporations like Sony Music." It's clear that Judge O'Grady misunderstood the impact of losing Internet access. In a hearing on Cox's earlier infringement case in 2015, he called concerns about losing access "completely hysterical," and compared them to "my son complaining when I took his electronics away when he watched YouTube videos instead of doing homework."

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Proven Against Coronavirus, mRNA Can Do So Much More

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 16:34
A long read in Wired argues that the mRNA vaccine revolution is just beginning. CNN explains why scientists are so excited: When the final Phase 3 data came out last November showing the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were more than 90% effective, Dr. Anthony Fauci had no words. He texted smiley face emojis to a journalist seeking his reaction. This astonishing efficacy has held up in real-world studies in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. The mRNA technology developed for its speed and flexibility as opposed to expectations it would provide strong protection against an infectious disease has pleased and astonished even those who already advocated for it... This approach that led to remarkably safe and effective vaccines against a new virus is also showing promise against old enemies such as HIV, and infections that threaten babies and young children, such as respiratory syncytial virus and metapneumovirus. It's being tested as a treatment for cancers, including melanoma and brain tumors. It might offer a new way to treat autoimmune diseases. And it's also being checked out as a possible alternative to gene therapy for intractable conditions such as sickle cell disease. In fact, Moderna is already working on personalized cancer vaccines, the article points out — and that's just the beginning. Two researchers whose technology underlies both the Modern and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines are now also working on two vaccines against HIV, another one to prevent genital herpes, and two targeting influenza, including a so-called universal influenza vaccine that could protect against rapidly mutating flu strains, possibly offering years of protection with a single shot. And researchers have also studied mRNA vaccines to fight Ebola, Zika, rabies and cytomegalovirus.

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FBI Charges Woman With Writing Code For 'Trickbot' Ransomware Gang

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 15:34
Slashdot reader Charlotte Web summarizes a Department of Justice press release: The U.S. Department of Justice says "millions" of computers around the world were infected with the Trickbot malware, which was used "to harvest banking credentials and deliver ransomware." In February they arrested a 55-year-old woman in Miami, Florida, saying she and her associates "are accused of infecting tens of millions of computers worldwide, in an effort to steal financial information to ultimately siphon off millions of dollars through compromised computer systems," according to Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith of the FBI's Cleveland Field Office. In October ZDNet was calling Trickbot "one of today's largest malware botnets and cybercrime operations." Yesterday that woman — Alla Witte, aka "Max" — was arraigned in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. According to the indictment, Witte worked as a malware developer for the Trickbot Group and wrote code related to the control, deployment, and payments of ransomware. From the Department of Justice announcement: The ransomware informed victims that their computer was encrypted, and that they would need to purchase special software through a Bitcoin address controlled by the Trickbot Group to decrypt their files. In addition, Witte allegedly provided code to the Trickbot Group that monitored and tracked authorized users of the malware and developed tools and protocols to store stolen login credentials... Witte and her co-conspirators allegedly worked together to infect victim computers with the Trickbot malware designed to capture online banking login credentials and harvest other personal information, including credit card numbers, emails, passwords, dates of birth, social security numbers and addresses. Witte and others also allegedly captured login credentials and other stolen personal information to gain access to online bank accounts, execute unauthorized electronic funds transfers and launder the money through U.S. and foreign beneficiary accounts... If convicted, Witte faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud; 30 years in prison for each substantive bank fraud count; a two-year mandatory sentence for each aggravated identity theft count, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence; and 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment alleges that "beginning in November 2015, Witte and others stole money and confidential information from unsuspecting victims, including businesses and their financial institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and Russia through the use of the Trickbot malware." The AP reports the group is now accused of targeting high-reward victims which included hospitals, schools, public utilities, and governments, as well as real estate and law firms and country clubs. Interestingly, this case is part of the U.S. Department of Justice's "Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force," with its Criminal Division working with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices and prioritizing the disruption, investigation, and prosecution of ransomware "by tracking and dismantling the development and deployment of malware, identifying the cybercriminals responsible, and holding those individuals accountable for their crimes," according to the department's statement. "The department, through the Task Force, also strategically targets the ransomware criminal ecosystem as a whole and collaborates with domestic and foreign government agencies as well as private sector partners to combat this significant criminal threat." "These charges serve as a warning to would-be cybercriminals," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, "that the Department of Justice, through the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force and alongside our partners, will use all the tools at our disposal to disrupt the cybercriminal ecosystem."

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How Steve Jobs Wrote 'the Most Important Email in the History of Business'

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 12:34
A new column in Inc. argues that 14 years ago, Steve Jobs sent the most important email in the history of business — a one-sentence email to Bertrand Serlet, the company's senior vice president of Software Engineering, that's just recently been made public (through Apple's trial with Epic): It reveals a conversation about the things Apple needs to be able to accomplish in order to allow third-party apps on the iPhone. Until that point, the iPhone only ran 16 apps pre-installed on every device. Jobs had famously said told developers that if they wanted to create apps for the iPhone, they could make web apps that ran in Safari... Except web apps aren't the same as native apps, and users immediately set about finding ways to jailbreak their devices in order to get apps on them. Apple had really no choice but to find a way to make it possible to develop apps through some kind of official SDK. Serlet lays out a series of considerations about protecting users, creating a development platform, and ensuring that the APIs needed are sustainable and documented. The list only has 4 things, but the point Serlet is trying to make is that it is important to Apple to "do it right this time, rather than rush a half-cooked story with no real support." Steve Jobs' reply was only one sentence long: "Sure, as long as we can roll it all out at Macworld on Jan 15, 2008." That's it. That's the entire response. Serlet's email is dated October 2, 2007. That means Jobs was giving him just over three months... Three months to do what the software engineer no doubt believed were critical steps if Apple was going to support apps on a platform that would eventually grow to over 1 billion devices worldwide and become one of the most valuable businesses of all time. As if that wasn't enough pressure, two weeks later, on October 17, Jobs publicly told developers that there would be an SDK available by February of 2008. It turns out it would actually be made available in March, and the App Store would launch later in July of that year. At the time, Apple's market cap was around $150 billion. Today, it's more than $2 trillion, largely based on the success of the iPhone, which is based — at least in part — on the success of the App Store. For that reason alone, I think it's fair to say — in hindsight — that one-sentence reply has no doubt proven to be the most important email in the history of business.

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How Amazon Became an Engine For Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 08:34
Type "vaccines" into Amazon's search bar, and its auto-complete suggests "are dangerous" for your search. But that's just part of a larger problem, points out Fast Company (in an article shared by Slashdot reader tedlistens). For example, Amazon's search results are touting as "best sellers!" many books with some very bad science: Offered by small publishers or self-published through Amazon's platform, the books rehearse the falsehoods and conspiracy theories that fuel vaccine opposition, steepening the impact of the pandemic and slowing a global recovery. They also illustrate how the world's biggest store has become a megaphone for anti-vaccine activists, medical misinformers, and conspiracy theorists, pushing dangerous falsehoods in a medium that carries more apparent legitimacy than just a tweet. "Without question, Amazon is one of the greatest single promoters of anti-vaccine disinformation, and the world leader in pushing fake anti-vaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy books," says Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and vaccine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine. For years, journalists and researchers have warned of the ways fraudsters, extremists, and conspiracy theorists use Amazon to earn cash and attention. To Hotez, who has devoted much of his career to educating the public about vaccines, the real-world consequences aren't academic. In the U.S. and elsewhere, he says, vaccination efforts are now up against a growing ecosystem of activist groups, foreign manipulators, and digital influencers who "peddle fake books on Amazon...." Gradually, Amazon has taken a tougher approach to content moderation, and to a seemingly ceaseless onslaught of counterfeits, fraud, defective products, and toxic speech... Despite its sweeps, however, Amazon is still flooded with misinformation, and helping amplify it too: A series of recent studies and a review by Fast Company show the bookstore is boosting misinformation around health-related terms like "autism" or "covid," and nudging customers toward a universe of other conspiracy theory books. In one audit first published in January, researchers at the University of Washington surveyed Amazon's search results for four dozen terms related to vaccines. Among 38,000 search results and over 16,000 recommendations, they counted nearly 5,000 unique products containing misinformation, or 10.47% of the total. For books, they found that titles deemed misinformative appeared higher in search results than books that debunked their theories. "Overall, our audits suggest that Amazon has a severe vaccine/health misinformation problem exacerbated by its search and recommendation algorithms," write Prerna Juneja and Tanushee Mitra in their paper, presented last month at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. "Just a single click on an anti-vaccine book could fill your homepage with several other similar anti-vaccine books..." Like any products on Amazon, or any content across social media platforms, anti-vaccine titles also benefit from an algorithmically-powered ranking system. And despite the company's aggressive efforts to battle fraud, it's a system that's still easily manipulated through false reviews... Much of the uproar about misinformation has focused on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, but Amazon's role deserves more attention, says Marc Tuters, an assistant professor of new media at the University of Amsterdam, who helped lead the Infodemic.eu study. The retailer sells half of all the books in the U.S. and its brand is highly trusted by consumers.

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Judge's Ruling Calls Disney's Star Wars Sequels 'Mediocre' and 'Schlocky'

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 05:34
"It is now written in the annals of legal history that Disney's Star Wars sequels, specifically The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, are mediocre," writes MovieWeb: This, according to Ninth Circuit Court Judge Kenneth K. Lee, who recently referred to the movies as such in a recent legal ruling... Judge Lee recently handed down a ruling in regards to a class action lawsuit against ConAgra Foods Inc. The case had to do with whether or not the company was responsible for placing a "100% Natural" label on bottles of Wesson Oil. ConAgra Foods no longer owns Wesson Oil.... And, as the judge found in his ruling, the company simply doesn't have the power to make that sort of call anymore.... This is where things get interesting. At this point in the ruling, Judge Lee decided to make a comparison, and that's where Star Wars comes in. It would seem the judge is a fan and he decided to liken the situation to Disney producing a trilogy of sequels after Lucasfilm was sold to them by George Lucas in 2012. And, in his professional, legal opinion, those movies were not up to snuff. "That is like George Lucas promising no more mediocre and schlocky Star Wars sequels shortly after selling the franchise to Disney. Such a promise would be illusory." That wasn't the end of it either. In a footnote at the end of that page in the document, Judge Lee added some clarification saying, "As evident by Disney's production of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker."

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'TikTok Detected My ADHD Before I Did'

Slashdot - Nie, 2021-06-06 02:35
"It's kind of embarrassing to say, but the social media app TikTok figured out I had ADHD before I did," writes 23-year-old Australian journalist Matilda Boseley in The Guardian. "For 23 years my parents, my teachers, my doctor, my psychologist and my own brain all missed the warning signs, yet somehow it only took that app's algorithm a few days to accidentally diagnose me..." Growing up I had always had a nagging feeling that everyone else in the world was coping better than I was. Somehow they could remember appointments and deadlines, they had the discipline to keep an updated planner and they didn't drift off daydreaming in the middle of important conversations... I just felt like there were 10 TVs constantly switched on in my head, and with so much going on, all the small things would fall through the cracks. It wasn't until I downloaded TikTok that I truly considered I might have the disorder. See, the app is based around the "for you" page which curates a stream of videos for you. It starts out pretty generic, but as you "like" some videos, and quickly scroll past others, the app's algorithm builds a profile of you and your interests. And that profile is scarily accurate sometimes. It genuinely knew me better than I knew myself. What I think happened is that the algorithm noticed that every time a video titled something like "Five little known signs of ADHD in women" showed up on my feed I would watch it, fascinated, all the way to the end. So, like the dystopian capitalism machine it is, the app showed me more and more of these videos desperate to keep me on the app and extract every possible advertising cent my eyeballs could buy. But, as a side effect, all of a sudden I was seeing ADHD content made by women and for women, for the very first time. It was like someone putting everything that always felt weird in my brain into words. Forgetting something exists if you can't see it could be a problem with "object permanence". Being unable to stand up and tidy my apartment, despite desperately wanting to, might not be laziness; it could be "executive dysfunction". Suddenly it occurred to me, maybe I wasn't somehow just "worse at being a person" than everyone else. Maybe I simply didn't have enough dopamine in my brain. I can't overstate how liberating that felt. So I booked a doctor's appointment, and three referrals, four months and about $700 later my new psychiatrist looked straight into the webcam and said: "Yes, I think you clearly have ADHD and you've had it for your whole life." I cried from joy when he said it. Mental health experts told me it wasn't actually that surprising that hearing first-hand accounts of neurodivergence is what finally made the pin drop. In fact, Beyond Blue's lead clinical advisor Dr Grant Blashki said social media could be an extraordinarily powerful tool for increasing what the medical community refer to as "mental health literacy". In fact "learning you have ADHD on TikTok" is now such a common phenomenon that it's become its own meme on the app. There isn't any hard and fast data on the phenomenon but just from my own experience, since telling my friends about my diagnosis, no less than four people have come back to me saying they reckon they might have it too... At the end of the day I am so grateful for TikTok, and the creators that make ADHD videos. That algorithm has profoundly changed my life, undoubtedly for the better.

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America's FBI Withdraws Demand for IP Addresses of Readers of a Newspaper's Story During a 35-Minute Window

Slashdot - Sob, 2021-06-05 23:55
UPDATE: America's Federal Bureau of Investigation has now "withdrawn a subpoena demanding records from USA TODAY that would identify readers of a February story about a southern Florida shootout that killed two agents and wounded three others," the newspaper reported today. Friday USA Today had reported that it's "fighting a subpoena from the FBI demanding records that would identify readers of a February story" about a Southern Florida shooting that killed two of the investigative agency's agents and wounded three others. Long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 shared their original report on Friday: In a motion filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C. asking a judge to quash the subpoena, Gannett, USA TODAY's parent company, said the effort is not only unconstitutional but also violates the Justice Department's own rules... The subpoena, issued in April, demands the production of records containing IP addresses and other identifying information "for computers and other electronic devices" that accessed the story during a 35-minute time frame starting at 8:03 p.m. on the day of the shooting. "Being forced to tell the government who reads what on our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment," Maribel Perez Wadsworth, USA TODAY's publisher, said in a statement. "The FBI's subpoena asks for private information about readers of our journalism...." The subpoena, signed by an FBI agent in Maryland, said the records relate to a criminal investigation. But it's unclear how USA TODAY's readership records are related to the investigation of the Florida shooting, or why the FBI is focusing on the time frame. Wadsworth said Gannett's attorneys tried to contact the FBI before and after the company fought the subpoena in court, but she said the FBI has yet to provide any meaningful explanation of the basis for the subpoena. The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.

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Why It's a Big Deal That No One Cares about the Next Version of Windows

Slashdot - Sob, 2021-06-05 23:34
The New York Times' "On Tech" newsletter observes that Microsoft releasing a new version of Windows is now "basically a nonevent." "This shows technology has evolved from a succession of Big Bang moments to something so meshed into our lives that we often don't notice it." The last version of Windows as we knew it was arguably released in 2012. I was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal at the time, and my professional life that year was dominated by the unveiling of Windows 8 — including the anticipation, the strategy around it, and its eventual reception. But that was basically the end of an era. New releases of Windows since then have become progressively less major. A significant reason is that personal computers are no longer the center of our digital lives. A new iPhone model gets a lot of attention — although it shouldn't get so much — but a refresher to Windows doesn't. Still, the supremacy of smartphones is an insufficient explanation. Windows beginning around 2015 began to get regularly tweaked under the hood — just like Netflix, Facebook, and every app on your smartphone as well as the software that runs the phone itself. In other words, Windows just changes in dribs and drabs all of the time without most people noticing. Instead of waiting years to get a fresh computer, we're effectively getting a new PC with every tweak. The new edition of Windows will remodel the look of the software and improve features like reordering apps. But because Microsoft incrementally revises Windows, new versions of the software matter less to most people. This shift for Windows was part of a remarkable transformation at Microsoft. The company's obsession with Windows threatened to relegate Microsoft to tech irrelevancy. Then Microsoft hired a new chief executive in 2014, and suddenly Windows wasn't the beating heart of the company anymore. That shows just how much institutions can change. But more than that, a Windows launch morphing from a big thing to something a professional tech writer didn't see coming reflects what technology has become. It's no longer strictly the shiny new object that comes out of a box every once in a while. Technology is all around us all the time, and it's perfectly normal.

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El Salvador: World's First Country to Adopt Bitcoin as Legal Tender?

Slashdot - Sob, 2021-06-05 22:35
CNBC reports that El Salvador "is looking to introduce legislation that will make it the world's first sovereign nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar." In a video broadcast to Bitcoin 2021, a multiday conference in Miami being billed as the biggest bitcoin event in history, President Nayib Bukele announced El Salvador's partnership with digital wallet company, Strike, to build the country's modern financial infrastructure using bitcoin technology. Strike founder and CEO Jack Mallers said this will go down as the "shot heard 'round the world for bitcoin...." Speaking from the mainstage, Mallers said the move will help unleash the power and potential of bitcoin for everyday use cases on an open network that benefits individuals, businesses, and public sector services... While details are still forthcoming about how the rollout will work, CNBC is told that El Salvador has assembled a team of bitcoin leaders to help build a new financial ecosystem with bitcoin as the base layer. "It was an inevitability, but here already: the first country on track to make bitcoin legal tender," said Adam Back, CEO of Blockstream.

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How Reliable Are Modern CPUs?

Slashdot - Sob, 2021-06-05 21:34
Slashdot reader ochinko (user #19,311) shares The Register's report about a recent presentation by Google engineer Peter Hochschild. His team discovered machines with higher-than-expected hardware errors that "showed themselves sporadically, long after installation, and on specific, individual CPU cores rather than entire chips or a family of parts." The Google researchers examining these silent corrupt execution errors (CEEs) concluded "mercurial cores" were to blame CPUs that miscalculated occasionally, under different circumstances, in a way that defied prediction...The errors were not the result of chip architecture design missteps, and they're not detected during manufacturing tests. Rather, Google engineers theorize, the errors have arisen because we've pushed semiconductor manufacturing to a point where failures have become more frequent and we lack the tools to identify them in advance. In a paper titled "Cores that don't count" [PDF], Hochschild and colleagues Paul Turner, Jeffrey Mogul, Rama Govindaraju, Parthasarathy Ranganathan, David Culler, and Amin Vahdat cite several plausible reasons why the unreliability of computer cores is only now receiving attention, including larger server fleets that make rare problems more visible, increased attention to overall reliability, and software development improvements that reduce the rate of software bugs. "But we believe there is a more fundamental cause: ever-smaller feature sizes that push closer to the limits of CMOS scaling, coupled with ever-increasing complexity in architectural design," the researchers state, noting that existing verification methods are ill-suited for spotting flaws that occur sporadically or as a result of physical deterioration after deployment. Facebook has noticed the errors, too. In February, the social ad biz published a related paper, "Silent Data Corruption at Scale," that states, "Silent data corruptions are becoming a more common phenomena in data centers than previously observed...." The risks posed by misbehaving cores include not only crashes, which the existing fail-stop model for error handling can accommodate, but also incorrect calculations and data loss, which may go unnoticed and pose a particular risk at scale. Hochschild recounted an instance where Google's errant hardware conducted what might be described as an auto-erratic ransomware attack. "One of our mercurial cores corrupted encryption," he explained. "It did it in such a way that only it could decrypt what it had wrongly encrypted." How common is the problem? The Register notes that Google's researchers shared a ballpark figure "on the order of a few mercurial cores per several thousand machines similar to the rate reported by Facebook."

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