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Data Storage

Oakland Changes License Plate Reader Policy After Filling 80GB Hard Drive 266

An anonymous reader writes: License plate scanners are a contentious subject, generating lots of debate over what information the government should have, how long they should have it, and what they should do with it. However, it seems policy changes are driven more by practical matters than privacy concerns. Earlier this year, Ars Technica reported that the Oakland Police Department retained millions of records going back to 2010. Now, the department has implemented a six-month retention window, with older data being thrown out. Why the change? They filled up the 80GB hard drive on the Windows XP desktop that hosted the data, and it kept crashing.

Why not just buy a cheap drive with an order of magnitude more storage space? Sgt. Dave Burke said, "We don't just buy stuff from Amazon as you suggested. You have to go to a source, i.e., HP or any reputable source where the city has a contract. And there's a purchase order that has to be submitted, and there has to be money in the budget. Whatever we put on the system, has to be certified. You don't just put anything. I think in the beginning of the program, a desktop was appropriate, but now you start increasing the volume of the camera and vehicles, you have to change, otherwise you're going to drown in the amount of data that's being stored."
Government

California Bill Would Dramatically Limit Commercial Drones 181

An anonymous reader writes: California's Senate Bill 142 would prohibit drones from flying under 350 feet over any property without express permission from the property's owner. The bill passed the California Assembly easily. Tech advocates have been battling privacy advocates to influence the inevitable regulation of private and commercial drones. Industry groups say this restriction will kill drone delivery services before they even begin. The legislation would also drastically diminish the usefulness of camera-centric drones like the ones being rolled out by GoPro. If passed, the bill could influence how other states regulate drones. The article notes that 156 different drone-related bills have been considered in 46 different states this year alone, and the FAA will issue nationwide rules in September.
Businesses

Life With the Dash Button: Good Design For Amazon, Bad For Everyone Else 245

vivaoporto writes: A scathing review published on Fast Company describes Amazon's Dash Button, the "Buy Now" button brought into the physical world as "the latest symptom of Amazon's slowly spreading disease", "an unabashed attempt to disconnect customers from the amount of money we're spending." The author's criticism centers on Amazon's lack of focus on customer experience, a core UI that doesn't make sense, limited and expensive product selection and a store UX "no longer designed for your convenient shopping", but rather "designed for their profitable selling."
Windows

Windows 95 Turns 20 276

Etherwalk writes: Windows 95 turns 20 tomorrow, August 24, 2015. Users looking to upgrade from Windows 3.1 should be warned that some reviewers on the Amazon purchase page have been receiving 3.5" high-density floppy disk versions instead of a modern 150 kbps CD-ROM disk. Do you remember first seeing or installing Windows 95? Do you have any systems still running it?
Advertising

Why Google Wants To Sell You a Wi-Fi Router 198

lpress writes: Last quarter, Google made $16 billion on advertising and $1.7 billion on "other sales." I don't know how "other sales" breaks down, but a chunk of that is hardware devices like the Pixel Chromebook, Chromecast, Next thermostat, Nexus phone and, now, WiFi routers. Does the world need another $200 home router? Why would Google bother? I can think of a couple of strategic reasons — they hope it will become a home-automation hub (competing with the Amazon Echo) and it will enable them to dynamically configure and upgrade your home or small office network for improved performance (hence more ads).
Space

John S. Lewis On the Space Commodities Market 61

John S. Lewis -- Deep Space Industries' chief scientist, author, and University of Arizona professor -- speaks in an interview with Air & Space magazine about the practicalities and possibilities of deep-space mining, a topic on which he is unapologetically bullish. He points out, though, that some of the artist's-conception version of space mining skips over some of the economic realities of getting back to Earth metals that are scarce here. From the interview: But—and here’s the big conditional—if we develop an industrial capability in space such that we’re processing large amounts of metals to make solar-powered satellites, for example, then as a byproduct, we would have very substantial quantities of platinum-group metals, which are extremely valuable. So if you have a market for the iron and the nickel in space, that would liberate the precious metals to be brought back to Earth. So the scheme is not based on the idea of retrieving platinum-group metals—that is simply gravy."
Advertising

Amazon To Stop Accepting Flash Ads 218

An anonymous reader writes: Starting on September 1, Amazon will no longer support Flash across its advertising platform. The online retailer sites changes to browser support and a desire for customers to have a better experience as their reasons for blocking it. Google has been quite active recently in efforts to kill Flash; the Chrome beta channel has begun automatically pausing Flash, Google has converted ads from Flash to HTML5, and YouTube uses HTML5 by default now as well. Safari and Firefox also place limits on Flash content. Is Flash finally on its way out?
Businesses

Amazon Work-Life Balance Defender: Prior Employer Nearly Killed Me and My Team 211

theodp writes: New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan questions whether her paper's portrayal of Amazon's brutal workplace was on target, citing a long, passionate response in disagreement from Nick Ciubotariu, a head of infrastructure development at Amazon. Interestingly, Ciubotariu — whose take on Amazon's work-life balance ("I've never worked a single weekend when I didn't want to") was used as Exhibit A by CEO Jeff Bezos to refute the NYT's report — wrote last December of regretting his role as an enabler of his team's "Death March" at a former employer (perhaps Microsoft, judging by Ciubotariu's LinkedIn profile and his essay's HiPo and Vegas references). "I asked if there were any questions," wrote Ciubotariu of a team meeting. "Nadia, one of my Engineers, had one: 'Nick, when will this finally end?' As I looked around the room, I saw 9 completely broken human beings. We had been working over 100 hours a week for the past 2 months. Two of my Engineers had tears on their faces. I did my best to keep from completely breaking down myself. With my voice choking, I looked at everyone, and said: 'This ends right now'." Ciubotariu added, "I hope they can forgive me for being an enabler of their death march, however unwilling, and that I ultimately didn't do enough to stop it. As a 'reward' for all this, I calibrated #1 overall in my organization, and received yet another HiPo nomination and induction, at the cost of a shattered family life, my health, and a broken team. I don't think I ever felt worse in my entire career. If I could give it all back, I would, in an instant, no questions asked. Physically and mentally, I took about a year to heal."
Bug

Multiple Vulnerabilities Exposed In Pocket 88

vivaoporto writes: Clint Ruoho reports on gnu.gl blog the process of discovery, exploitation and reporting of multiple vulnerabilities in Pocket, the third party web-based service chosen by Mozilla (with some backslash) as the default way to save articles for future reading in Firefox. The vulnerabilities, exploitable by an attacker with only a browser, the Pocket mobile app and access to a server in Amazon EC2 costing 2 cents an hour, would give an attacker unrestricted root access to the server hosting the application.

The entry point was exploiting the service's main functionality itself — adding a server internal address in the "read it later" user list — to retrieve sensitive server information like the /etc/passwd file, its internal IP and the ssh private key needed to connect to it without a password. With this information it would be possible to SSH into the machine from another instance purchased in the same cloud service giving the security researcher unrestricted access. All the vulnerabilities were reported by the researcher to Pocket, and the disclosure was voluntarily delayed for 21 days from the initial report to allow Pocket time to remediate the issues identified. Pocket does not provide monetary compensation for any identified or possible vulnerability.
Businesses

Debate Over Amazon Working Conditions Goes Back Years 268

Nerval's Lobster writes: This weekend, The New York Times published a lengthy report about working conditions for white-collar workers at Amazon. Describing the e-commerce giant as a "bruising workplace," the report paints a picture of a Darwinian environment. But criticism of Amazon's working conditions actually goes back years. In The Everything Store, a book-length account of Amazon by Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter Brad Stone, the Amazon of yesteryear is indeed described as an aggressive place in which Bezos pushed employees relentlessly. So is Amazon a terrible place to work? On Quora and Glassdoor, current employees suggest that the company presents its workers with interesting challenges, and that the culture is fast-paced. While there are complaints about the hours and workload, many don't seem Amazon-specific: The world is filled with tech pros struggling to achieve work-life balance in the face of incredible goals on tight deadlines. Many cite issues with the company's frugality—its lack of perks vis-à-vis Google or Microsoft. After the report was published Jeff Bezos wrote a memo to employees that reads in part: “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at jeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.”
Books

XKCD Author's New Unpublished Book Becomes Scientific Best-Seller 90

An anonymous reader writes: XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe will be publishing a new book in November, but it's already become Amazon's #1 best-seller in two "Science & Math" subcategories, for mechanics and scientific instruments. Inspired by a cartoon describing NASA's Saturn V rocket as "the up-goer V", Randall's created a large-format collection of blueprints describing datacenters, tectonic plates, and even the controls in an airplane cockpit — using only the thousand most common English words. "Since this book explains things, I've called it Thing Explainer," Randall writes on the XKCD blog, trying to mimic the humorously simple style of his book. Randall's previous book of scientific hypotheticals — published one year ago — is still Amazon's #1 best-selling book in their "Physics" category, ranking higher than Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."
Businesses

The Challenge of Working At Amazon 396

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times has a lengthy exposé on the working conditions within Jeff Bezos's Amazon. "Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable." Over 100 current and former employees were interviewed for the article, and they painted a picture of a demanding and punishing workplace that people tolerate in exchange for the ability to create. "In contrast to companies where declarations about their philosophy amount to vague platitudes, Amazon has rules that are part of its daily language and rituals, used in hiring, cited at meetings and quoted in food-truck lines at lunchtime. Some Amazonians say they teach them to their children." Of course, this attitude causes problems for people whose lives don't allow them extreme levels of effort: "The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. 'I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,' the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored 'to make sure my focus stayed on my job.'"
Television

HBO, Netflix, and Amazon Targeting Kids 46

An anonymous reader writes: The latest high-profile show to join one of the major streaming services probably isn't one you watch: Sesame Street. However, it's a clear signal for a growing trend: these services desperately want to corner the market on kid's shows. Netflix has gotten tons of praise for its original series, and it's been quietly putting that production power behind new shows aimed at children. They've also made deals with Disney and Dreamworks to get movies onto the service as quickly as possible. Amazon has been debuting series after series as well, with six pilots for new children's shows landing last month alone. "The battle for kids, at bottom, is about keeping their parents around even when a favorite show about a murderous politician is on hiatus. Streaming services are far easier to cancel and resubscribe than cable-TV ... so the goal is to make that decision harder." Now that HBO is starting to commit to streaming, it's faced with the same problems. By deriving their funding through subscriptions, these companies can avoid the flak YouTube and Hulu are getting for targeting kids with advertisements.
Businesses

Amazon Cuts Down On Prime Sharing 79

An anonymous reader writes: Tech Crunch reports that Amazon quietly rolled out changes to how their Prime subscriptions can be shared. The good news is that existing members aren't immediately losing their current sharing setups. It used to be that Amazon would let Prime subscribers share free shipping and a few other benefits with up to four other "household" members, with little restriction on what counted as a "household." The bad news: as of last weekend, Amazon now limits sharing to one other adult and four "child" profiles. The adults will need to authorize each other to use credit/debit cards associated with the account. Amazon didn't make any announcement about this, so it's unknown how long existing Prime shares will stay in effect. They could disappear when the subscription is up for renewal, or earlier if Amazon decides to crack down on it.
Android

GasBuddy Has a New Privacy Policy (Spoiler: Not As Customer Friendly) 113

An anonymous reader writes: GasBuddy has been a popular iOS and Android app for the last 5 years used to find the cheapest place to get gas. According to the Google Play store, there are over 10 million installs (in additions to the installs from Apple and Amazon's appstores). Now that they have a large enough number of users, GasBuddy has updated their privacy policy to allow them to collect more information. Some highlights of the privacy policy changes include: only 10 days for new terms to take effect (previously users were given 30 days to review the changes); collection of "signal strength related to Wifi or Bluetooth functionality, temperature, battery level, and similar technical data"; and [a warning that the company] will not honor a web browser's "do not track" setting.
Television

Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May Making Show For Amazon 207

mrspoonsi writes: Amazon has announced that former Top Gear hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will be reuniting to create “an all-new car show” that will be exclusively on Amazon Prime. The first season will be made available worldwide in 2016 and will be produced executive producer Andy Wilman. The BBC reports: "The move follows their departure from the hit BBC Two show earlier this year. Clarkson's contract was not renewed following an 'unprovoked physical attack' on a Top Gear producer. His co-hosts then followed him in leaving the show. They will now make the unnamed new programme with former Top Gear executive producer Andy Wilman, who also quit the BBC following the 'fracas.' In a statement from Amazon, Clarkson said: 'I feel like I've climbed out of a biplane and into a spaceship.'"