waderoush writes "One of the problems that kept PR2, a two-armed humanoid robot developed by Menlo Park, CA-based Willow Garage, from succeeding commercially was its $400,000 price tag. But as it turned out, only a handful of the 40 or so universities that own PR2s ever developed applications that use both arms. That's one of the reasons why UBR-1, a mobile manipulator robot from Willow Garage spinoff Unbounded Robotics, has only one arm. And that, along with many other engineering decisions and technology improvements, will allow the startup to sell its robot for just $35,000 (it's designed for materials-handling tasks in places like warehouses, elder care facilities, and supermarkets). 'With robots, feature creep is so much more present than in some other fields,' says Unbounded co-founder and CEO Melonee Wise. 'There is always this desire to make a Swiss Army knife. But you have to make compromises, and those compromises directly impact the capabilities as well as the cost of the robot.' One roboticist told Unbounded: 'Your robot is so inexpensive that if I needed to have a second arm, I'd just buy a second robot.'"
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mrspoonsi writes with this excerpt from Business Insider: "This morning, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to give 18 million Facebook shares to charity by the end of the month. Facebook is currently trading at $55 per share, so Zuckerberg's gift is worth just under $1 billion. The money will go toward Zuckerberg's foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and The Breakthrough Prize In Life Science, a [Nobel] Prize-like award. Zuckereberg is giving his shares away as part of a secondary stock offering from Facebook. Reuters says Zuckerberg will sell 41.4 million shares, reducing his voting power in the company from 58.8% to 56.1%. Other insiders selling include board member Marc Andreessen, who will sell 1.65 million shares. Facebook is selling 27 million."
Nerval's Lobster writes "A compiler can take your C++ loops and create vectorized assembly code for you. It's obviously important that you RTFM and fully understand compiler options (especially since the defaults may not be what you want or think you're getting), but even then, do you trust that the compiler is generating the best code for you? Developer and editor Jeff Cogswell compares the g++ and Intel compilers when it comes to generating vectorized code, building off a previous test that examined the g++ compiler's vectorization abilities, and comes to some definite conclusions. 'The g++ compiler did well up against the Intel compiler,' he wrote. 'I was troubled by how different the generated assembly code was between the 4.7 and 4.8.1 compilers—not just with the vectorization but throughout the code.' Do you agree?"
DavidGilbert99 writes "A report from Dell Secureworks earlier this week reported that up to 250,000 systems have been infected with the pernicious ransomware known as CryptoLocker. Digging a little deeper, David Gilbert at IBTimes UK found that the average ransom being paid was $300, and than on a very conservative basis just 0.4% of people paid the ransom. What does this all add up to? $30 million for the gang controlling CryptoLocker — and this could be 'many times bigger.'"
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from a Reuters report shedding light on one consequence of increasing knowledge of the extent of U.S. government spying: "Brazil awarded a $4.5 billion contract to Saab AB on Wednesday to replace its aging fleet of fighter jets, a surprise coup for the Swedish company after news of U.S. spying on Brazilians helped derail Boeing's chances for the deal. ... The timing of the announcement, after more than a decade of off-and-on negotiations, appeared to catch the companies involved by surprise. Even Juniti Saito, Brazil's top air force commander, said on Wednesday that he only heard of the decision a day earlier in a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff. Until earlier this year, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet had been considered the front runner. But revelations of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency in Brazil, including personal communication by Rousseff, led Brazil to believe it could not trust a U.S. company."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "SF writer Charles Stross writes on his blog that like all currency systems, Bitcoin comes with an implicit political agenda attached and although our current global system is pretty crap, Bitcoin is worse. For starters, BtC is inherently deflationary. There is an upper limit on the number of bitcoins that can ever be created so the cost of generating new Bitcoins rises over time, and the value of Bitcoins rise relative to the available goods and services in the market. Libertarians love it because it pushes the same buttons as their gold fetish and it doesn't look like a "Fiat currency". You can visualize it as some kind of scarce precious data resource, sort of a digital equivalent of gold. However there are a number of huge down-sides to Bitcoin says Stross: Mining BtC has a carbon footprint from hell as they get more computationally expensive to generate, electricity consumption soars; Bitcoin mining software is now being distributed as malware because using someone else's computer to mine BitCoins is easier than buying a farm of your own mining hardware; Bitcoin's utter lack of regulation permits really hideous markets to emerge, in commodities like assassination and drugs and child pornography; and finally Bitcoin is inherently damaging to the fabric of civil society because it is pretty much designed for tax evasion. "BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind—to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions," concludes Stross. "The current banking industry and late-period capitalism may suck, but replacing it with Bitcoin would be like swapping out a hangnail for Fournier's gangrene.""
jfruh writes "You may find it mildly creepy that Microsoft has a private police force, but the Digital Crimes Unit has helped real law enforcement do things like disrupt huge botnets. According to Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel for the Digital Crimes Unit, Microsoft is only able to do all this by relying on the company's existing infrastructure, including its Azure cloud service. The DCU can provision compute time from the cloud as necessary to combat complex threats, he said, and also uses cloud services to share information with law enforcement agencies quickly."
Nerval's Lobster writes "The comparatively recent addition of supercomputing to the toolbox of biomedical research may already have paid off in a big way: Researchers have used a bio-specialized supercomputer to identify a molecular 'switch' that might be used to turn off bad behavior by pathogens. They're now trying to figure out what to do with that discovery by running even bigger tests on the world's second-most-powerful supercomputer. The 'switch' is a pair of amino acids called Phe396 that helps control the ability of the E. coli bacteria to move under its own power. Phe396 sits on a chemoreceptor that extends through the cell wall, so it can pass information about changes in the local environment to proteins on the inside of the cell. Its role was discovered by a team of researchers from the University of Tennessee and the ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences using a specialized supercomputer called Anton, which was built specifically to simulate biomolecular interactions among proteins and other molecules to give researchers a better way to study details of how molecules interact. 'For decades proteins have been viewed as static molecules, and almost everything we know about them comes from static images, such as those produced with X-ray crystallography,' according to Igor Zhulin, a researcher at ORNL and professor of microbiology at UT, in whose lab the discovery was made. 'But signaling is a dynamic process, which is difficult to fully understand using only snapshots.'"
beaverdownunder writes "Apple has agreed to an agreement to ensure staff inform customers of rights under Australian consumer law. Despite the 2011 law requiring retailers to provide a refund option for faulty goods, and free repairs to items reasonably expected to still function properly (this part of the law is intentionally ambiguous), Apple steadfastly stuck to its AppleCare program, denying warranty repairs to units more than one year old (without the purchase of an extension) and only offering replacement or credit for DOA items. Apple has promised to compensate all Australian customers who were charged for repairs during the last two years, and make the terms of the law clear on the Australian Apple website. How this will affect company warranty policy is unclear — under the law, consumers could be entitled to repairs for the life of the product (barring damage, of course)."
toshikodo writes "The BBC is reporting that Internet content filters being rolled out by major ISPs in the UK are failing to allow access to acceptable content, such as sex education and sexual abuse advise sites, while also still allowing access to porn. According to the article, 'TalkTalk's filter is endorsed by Mr Cameron but it failed to block 7% of the 68 pornographic websites tested by Newsnight.' The ISPs claim that it is impossible for their filters to be 100% accurate, and that they are working with their users to improve quality. I wonder how long it will be before one of these filters blocks access to the Conservative Party's website, and what will Cameron do then?"
wiredmikey writes "A board set up to review the NSA's vast surveillance programs has called for a wide-ranging overhaul of National Security Agency practices while preserving 'robust' intelligence capabilities. The panel, set up by President Obama, issued 46 recommendations, including reforms at a secret national security court and an end to retention of telephone 'metadata' by the spy agency. The 308-page report (PDF) submitted last week to the White House and released publicly Wednesday says the US government needs to balance the interests of national security and intelligence gathering with privacy and 'protecting democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law.' Panel members said the recommendations would not necessarily mean a rolling back of intelligence gathering, including on foreign leaders, but that surveillance must be guided by standards and by high-level policymakers."
JoeyRox writes "Target experienced a system-wide breach of credit card numbers over the Black Friday holiday shopping season. What's unique about this massive breach is that it didn't involve compromising a centralized data center or website but instead represented a distributed attack at individual Target stores across the country. Investigators believe customer account numbers were lifted via software installed on card readers at checkout." Also at Slash BI.
sciencehabit writes "In a report on the most complete genome of a Neandertal ever sequenced, an international team of researchers has found that the parents of a Neandertal woman from Siberia were as closely related as half-siblings. The genome also shows that at some point the Neandertals interbred with other human groups, including their cousins the Denisovans, and our own modern human ancestors. There are even signs of Denisovans interbreeding with a mysterious archaic species. In all, the study suggests very close encounters among the several kinds of hominins living in the past 125,000 years. The detailed genome of the extinct Neandertals—our closest relatives—also offers a new look at the genetic differences that set our species apart from all the others."
coondoggie writes "In its annual look at what challenges NASA faces in the coming year, the agency's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) this year outlined nine key areas it says will cause the most angina. Leading the way in pain is money. NASA's current money story starts off bad and just gets worse. From the article: '"Along with the rest of the Federal Government, NASA began FY 2013 under a 6-month continuing resolution that funded the Agency at FY 2012 levels. This was followed by a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that reduced the Agency's enacted funding level of $17. 5 billion by $626.5 million, or approximately 4% due to sequestration. These financial pressures look to repeat themselves in FY 2014, with no annual budget in place at the beginning of the fiscal year and potential sequestration impacts that could reduce NASA's budget request of $17.7 billion by $1.5 billion to $16.2 billion. As the National Research Council noted in its 2012 report examining NASA's strategic direction and management, NASA's budget is 'mismatched to the current portfolio of missions, facilities, and staff,'" the OIG report stated.'"
SonicSpike writes with a story about the huge amount of bitcoins owned by the FBI. "In September, the FBI shut down the Silk Road online drug marketplace, and it started seizing bitcoins belonging to the Dread Pirate Roberts — the operator of the illicit online marketplace, who they say is an American man named Ross Ulbricht. The seizure sparked an ongoing public discussion about the future of Bitcoin, the world's most popular digital currency, but it had an unforeseen side-effect: It made the FBI the holder of the world's biggest Bitcoin wallet. The FBI now controls more than 144,000 bitcoins that reside at a bitcoin address that consolidates much of the seized Silk Road bitcoins. Those 144,000 bitcoins are worth close to $100 million at Tuesday's exchange rates. Another address, containing Silk Road funds seized earlier by the FBI, contains nearly 30,000 bitcoins ($20 million)."