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Updated: 10 min 9 sec ago

An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 7:00am
On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.

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Author of Swift Language Chris Lattner is Leaving Apple; We're Interviewing Him (Ask a Question!)

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 5:30am
Software developer Chris Lattner, who is the main author of LLVM as well as Apple's Swift programming language, is leaving Apple, he said today. From a post: When we made Swift open source and launched Swift.org we put a lot of effort into defining a strong community structure. This structure has enabled Apple and the amazingly vibrant Swift community to work together to evolve Swift into a powerful, mature language powering software used by hundreds of millions of people. I'm happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as "Project Lead" for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I've made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. We're delighted to share that we are interviewing Lattner, who says he's a "long-time reader/fan of Slashdot." Please leave your question in the comments section. Lattner says he'll talk about "open source (llvm/clang/swift/etc) or personal topics," but has requested that we do not ask him about Apple, which is understandable. Update: Lattner is joining Tesla.

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Why You Shouldn't Trust Geek Squad

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 3:30am
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Network World: The Orange County Weekly reports that Best Buy's "Geek Squad" repair technicians routinely search devices brought in for repair for files that could earn them $500 reward as FBI informants. This revelation came out in a court case, United States of America v. Mark A. Rettenmaier. Rettenmaier is a prominent Orange County physician and surgeon who took his laptop to the Mission Viejo Best Buy in November 2011 after he was unable to start it. According to court records, Geek Squad technician John "Trey" Westphal found an image of "a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck." Westphal notified his boss, who was also an FBI informant, who alerted another FBI informant -- as well as the FBI itself. The FBI has pretty much guaranteed the case will be thrown out by its behavior, this illegal search aside. According to Rettenmaier's defense attorney, agents conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant for his home, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records. Plus, the file was found in the unallocated "trash" space, meaning it could only be retrieved by "carving" with sophisticated forensics tools. Carving (or file carving) is defined as searching for files or other kinds of objects based on content, rather than on metadata. It's used to recover old files that have been deleted or damaged. To prove child pornography, you have to prove the possessor knew what he had was indeed child porn. There has been a court case where files found on unallocated space did not constitute knowing possession because it's impossible to determine who put the file there and how, since it's not accessible to the user under normal circumstances.

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MIT Unveils New Material That's Strongest and Lightest On Earth

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 1:25am
A team of MIT researchers have created the world's strongest and lightest material known to man using graphene. Futurism reports: Graphene, which was heretofore, the strongest material known to man, is made from an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions. But there's one drawback: while notable for its thinness and unique electrical properties, it's very difficult to create useful, three-dimensional materials out of graphene. Now, a team of MIT researchers discovered that taking small flakes of graphene and fusing them following a mesh-like structure not only retains the material's strength, but the graphene also remains porous. Based on experiments conducted on 3D printed models, researchers have determined that this new material, with its distinct geometry, is actually stronger than graphene -- making it 10 times stronger than steel, with only five percent of its density. The discovery of a material that is extremely strong but exceptionally lightweight will have numerous applications. As MIT reports: "The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features."

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Sonos CEO John MacFarlene Steps Down From the Company He Helped Found

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:45am
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: After nearly a decade and a half as the chief executive officer of the hardware company he cofounded, John MacFarlane has announced his resignation as the head of Sonos. The move had reportedly been planned for some time, with the executive citing a number of personal reasons. That decision was delayed, however, due in part to increased and unexpected competition by Amazon's line of Echo speakers, which cut into Sonos' bottom line. "The pivot that Sonos started at this time last year to best address these changes is complete, now it's about acceleration and leading," MacFarlane wrote in an open letter published on the Sonos site. "I can look ahead and see the role of Sonos, with the right experiences, partners, and focus, with a healthy future. In short, the future of the home music experience, and the opportunity for Sonos has never been better." The role of CEO will be filled by Patrick Spence, who is currently serving as the company's President, after four years as COO and stints at RIM (BlackBerry) and IBM Canada. MacFarlane will be staying on at the Santa Barbara-based streaming hardware company in a consulting role, but will also be resigning his job on its board of directors, telling The New York Times, "I don't want to be that founder who's always second-guessing."

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Microsoft To Enhance User Privacy Controls In Upcoming Windows 10 Update

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:05am
MojoKid writes: When Microsoft first launched Windows 10, it was generally well-received but also came saddled with a number of privacy concerns. It has taken quite a while for Microsoft to respond to these concerns in a meaningful way, but the company is finally proving that it's taking things seriously by detailing some enhanced privacy features coming to a future Windows 10 build. Microsoft is launching what it calls a (web-based) privacy dashboard, which lets you configure anything and everything about information that might be sent to back to the mothership. You can turn all tracking off, or pick and choose, if certain criteria don't concern you too much, like location or health activity, for example. Also, for fresh installs, you'll be given more specific privacy options so that you can feel confident from the get-go about the information you're sending Redmond's way. If you do decide to send any information Microsoft's way, the company promises that it won't use your information for the sake of targeted advertising.

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LinkedIn's and eBay's Founders Are Donating $20 Million To Protect Us From AI

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 11:25pm
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, have each committed $10 million to fund academic research and development aimed at keeping artificial intelligence systems ethical and to prevent building AI that may harm society. Recode reports: The fund received an additional $5 million from the Knight Foundation and two other $1 million donations from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Jim Pallotta, founder of the Raptor Group. The $27 million reserve is being anchored by MIT's Media Lab and Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, the name of the fund, expects to grow as new funders continue to come on board. AI systems work by analyzing massive amounts of data, which is first profiled and categorized by humans, with all their prejudices and biases in tow. The money will pay for research to investigate how socially responsible artificially intelligent systems can be designed to, say, keep computer programs that are used to make decisions in fields like education, transportation and criminal justice accountable and fair. The group also hopes to explore ways to talk with the public about and foster understanding of the complexities of artificial intelligence. The two universities will form a governing body along with Hoffman and the Omidyar Network to distribute the funds. The $20 million from Hoffman and the Omidyar Network are being given as a philanthropic grant -- not an investment vehicle.

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AT&T Imposes Another $5 Rate Hike On Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 10:45pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: ATT is raising the price of its grandfathered unlimited data plans by $5 a month, the second such increase in the past year. The price increase affects longtime mobile customers who have held onto unlimited data plans for years after ATT stopped selling them to new subscribers. The latest price increase was reported by DSLReports yesterday, and ATT confirmed the move to Ars. "If you have a legacy unlimited data plan, you can keep it; however, beginning in March 2017, it will increase by $5 per month," ATT said. The unlimited data price had been $30 a month for seven years, until ATT raised it to $35 in February 2016. The price increase this year will bring it up to $40. That amount is just for data: Including voice and texting, the smartphone plans cost around $90 a month. ATT encouraged customers to move to one of its new plans, most of which have data limits, saying the newer packages "provide several benefits that our legacy unlimited plan doesn't." For example, the newer plans support mobile hotspot connections allowing a phone's Internet service to be shared with another device. ATT had stopped selling unlimited smartphone data to new customers and to customers who are switching plans, but last year introduced a new unlimited plan that's available only to people who also subscribe to DirecTV or U-verse TV.

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Pentagon Successfully Tests Micro-Drone Swarm

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 10:05pm
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.

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Apple Patent Paves Way For iPhone With Full-Face Display, HUD Windows

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 9:25pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Apple Insider: Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent detailing technology that allows for ear speakers, cameras and even a heads-up display to hide behind an edge-to-edge screen, a design rumored to debut in a next-generation iPhone later this year. Awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,543,364 for "Electronic devices having displays with openings" describes a method by which various components can be mounted behind perforations in a device screen that are so small as to be imperceptible to the human eye. This arrangement would allow engineers to design a smartphone or tablet with a true edge-to-edge, or "full face," display. With smartphones becoming increasingly more compact, there has been a push to move essential components behind the active -- or light-emitting -- area of incorporated displays. Apple in its patent suggests mounting sensors and other equipment behind a series of openings, or through-holes, in the active portion of an OLED or similar panel. These openings might be left empty or, if desired, filled with glass, polymers, radio-transparent ceramic or other suitable material. Positioning sensor inputs directly in line with said openings facilitates the gathering of light, radio waves and acoustic signals. Microphones, cameras, antennas, light sensors and other equipment would therefore have unimpeded access beyond the display layer. The design also accommodates larger structures like iPhone's home button. According to the document, openings are formed between pixels, suggesting a self-illuminating display technology like OLED is preferred over traditional LCD structures that require backlight and filter layers. Hole groupings can be arranged in various shapes depending on the application, and might be larger or smaller than the underlying component. If implemented into a future iPhone, the window-based HUD could be Apple's first foray into augmented reality. Apple leaves the mechanics unmentioned, but the system could theoretically go beyond AR and into mixed reality applications.

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Apple Said To Be Working on AR Glasses With Carl Zeiss

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 8:45pm
Apple seems behind Microsoft, Google, and Facebook on the nascent augmented reality space, but that could change soon. From a report on CNET: The tech titan is working with the German optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss on a pair of lightweight AR/mixed reality glasses, according to tech evangelist Robert Scoble. The project, which could be announced as early as this year, was confirmed by a Zeiss employee, Scoble wrote in a Facebook post.

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Volkswagen Closes In on $4.3 Billion US Settlement in Diesel Scandal

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 8:05pm
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.

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LG's Upcoming Smartphone G6 Will Have 5.7-inch QHD+ Display Featuring 18:9 Aspect Ratio

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 6:40pm
Song Su-hyun, reporting for The Korea Herald: LG Electronics' upcoming flagship smartphone will have a 5.7-inch Quad HD liquid crystal display panel with a ratio of 18:9, LG Display said on Tuesday. LG Electronics confirmed it will be the G6 smartphone slated for launch next month. The new display panel, dubbed "QHD+," will be the world's first 18:9 QHD LCD, according to LG Display. The 18:9 ratio will provide users with greater immersion than previous displays and allow consumers to multitask by using the dual-screen feature.

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Consumer Reports Updates Its MacBook Pro Review

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 6:00pm
Reader TheFakeTimCook writes: Last month, the new MacBook Pro failed to receive a purchase recommendation from Consumer Reports due to battery life issues that it encountered during testing. Apple subsequently said it was working with Consumer Reports to understand the results, which it said do not match its "extensive lab tests or field data." According to an article from Consumer Reports, Apple has since concluded its work, and says it learned that Consumer Reports was using a "hidden Safari setting" which triggered an "obscure and intermittent bug" that led to inconsistent battery life results. With "normal user settings" enabled, Apple said Consumer Reports "consistently" achieved expected battery life. Apple stated: "We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab. After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life." Apple said it has fixed the Safari bug in the latest macOS Sierra beta seeded to developers and public testers this week.

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Wikimedia Foundation Nabs $3 Million Grant To Improve Accessibility of Free Commons' Content

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 5:20pm
As with other Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wikimedia Commons (a repository of free-to-use media assets, including photos, audio clips, and videos) is funded through donations, and the organization has now received $3 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic body set up in 1934 by the former president and CEO of General Motors. From a report on VentureBeat: With $3 million in the coffers, the Wikimedia Foundation says it will embark on a three-year mission to link assets on Wikimedia Commons with Wikidata, the organization's crowdsourced knowledge base. The upshot of this endeavor will mean that photos, videos, and all the rest will be much easier to find and, crucially, it will be "machine-readable" which opens up a wealth of opportunities to automate the process of integrating content into third-party services, such as apps and services operated by museums, galleries, and libraries. On the flip-side, this will also make it easier for third-party bodies to donate content to Wikimedia Commons while automatically including existing metadata, bypassing the need to manually label media.

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Fitbit Buys Vector, Romanian Startup's Existing Smartwatches Won't Receive Software Updates Anymore

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 4:40pm
An anonymous reader shares an Engadget report: One of the more surprising smartwatches of 2015 was from Vector, a Romanian startup led by former Citizen executives. Its 30-day battery life, Pebble-esque UI and classic watch design made it a great device for someone seeking a less ostentatiously geeky wearable. Now, the company has revealed that Fitbit has purchased it and its employees will be joining the fitness wearables firm. Unfortunately for Vector owners, Fitbit will be integrating Vector's hardware and software know-how into its own organization. That means that Vector, as a brand, will die off, and while its watches will remain operational, you can kiss any hope for software updates and new hardware goodbye.

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'Tooth Repair Drug' May Replace Fillings

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 4:00pm
Teeth can be encouraged to repair themselves in a way that could see an end to fillings, according to scientists. From a report on BBC: The team at King's College London showed that a chemical could encourage cells in the dental pulp to heal small holes in mice teeth. A biodegradable sponge was soaked in the drug and then put inside the cavity. The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed it led to "complete, effective natural repair." Teeth have limited regenerative abilities. They can produce a thin band of dentine -- the layer just below the enamel -- if the inner dental pulp becomes exposed, but this cannot repair a large cavity. [...] Scientists discovered that a drug called Tideglusib heightened the activity of stem cells in the dental pulp so they could repair 0.13mm holes in the teeth of mice. A drug-soaked sponge was placed in the hole and then a protective coating was applied over the top. As the sponge broke down it was replaced by dentine, healing the tooth.

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WhatsApp, Gmail Roped Into Tougher EU Privacy Proposal

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 3:20pm
Online messaging and email services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail will face tough new rules on how they can track users under a proposal presented by the European Union executive on Tuesday. From a report: The web players will have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers' conversations and ask for their consent before tracking them online to serve them personalized ads. The proposal by the European Commission extends some rules that now only apply to telecom operators to web companies offering calls and messages using the internet, known as "Over-The-Top" (OTT) services, seeking to close a perceived regulatory gap between the telecoms industry and mainly U.S. Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

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Scientists Predict Star Collision Visible To The Naked Eye In 2022

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 2:40pm
Scientists predict that a pair of stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide in 2022, give or take a year, creating an explosion in the night sky so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye. From a report on NPR: If it happens, it would be the first time such an event was predicted by scientists. Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his team said in a statement that two stars are orbiting each other now and "share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell." They predict those two stars, jointly called KIC 9832227, will eventually "merge and explode ... at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time." That extra-bright star is called a red nova. They recently presented their research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas.

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WeChat Beats Google in Releasing Apps That Don't Need Downloading or Installing

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 2:00pm
An anonymous reader shares a Mashable report: Click on a link in China's top messaging app, WeChat, and you'll be taken to a rich app-like experience, but without needing to download or install anything. Tencent, WeChat's maker, on Monday released "mini programs." The new mini programs work within the messaging app, and the early crop at launch include a Prisma-like photo editing app, a Pomodoro Timer productivity app, a flight search engine, and one for recipe searches. With the mini programs, the already-dominant WeChat continues its march to become practically ubiquitous on Chinese handsets, where people already use the messenger for real-life tasks like paying at restaurants, to hailing a Didi Chuxing ride. Last year, Google too announced that it would soon allow users to check out apps without downloading or installing them. The feature is yet to go live.

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