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Amazon Reveals New Delivery Drone Design With Range of 15 Miles ( 83

reifman writes: Amazon released new video of its futuristic drones (honestly the though of them buzzing around is the only thing that makes me want to join the NRA) but there's some hopefulness here. Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated 'sense and avoid' technology, as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more. 'It looks like science fiction, but it's real: One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road. ' Amazon said its drones fly under 400 feet and weigh less than 55 pounds.
The Almighty Buck

'No Such Thing As a Free Gift' Casts a Critical Eye At Gates Foundation ( 146

theodp writes: The Intercept's Michael Massing takes a look at "How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and the Bad of 'Hacker Philanthropy." He writes, "Despite its impact, few book-length assessments of the foundation's work have appeared. Now Linsey McGoey, a sociologist at the University of Essex, is seeking to fill the gap. 'Just how efficient is Gates's philanthropic spending?' she asks in No Such Thing as a Free Gift. 'Are the billions he has spent on U.S. primary and secondary schools improving education outcomes? Are global health grants directed at the largest health killers? Is the Gates Foundation improving access to affordable medicines, or are patent rights taking priority over human rights?' As the title of her book suggests, McGoey answers all of these questions in the negative. The good the foundation has done, she believes, is far outweighed by the harm." Massing adds, "Bill and Melinda Gates answer to no electorate, board, or shareholders; they are accountable mainly to themselves. What's more, the many millions of dollars the foundation has bestowed on nonprofits and news organizations has led to a natural reluctance on their part to criticize it. There's even a name for it: the 'Bill Chill' effect."

IT Execs On Their Dream Dinner Guests 83

StewBeans writes: In this lighthearted article for the holiday, IT executives were asked, if they could invite any technologist living or deceased to their Thanksgiving dinner, who would they invite and why? One CTO said that he'd invite the CTO of Amazon, Werner Vogels, so he could hear his thoughts on the future of cloud computing. Another would invite Ratan Tata, who he calls the "Bill Gates of India." Other responses range from early visionaries like Grace Hopper and Vint Cerf to the mysterious inventors/designers of the Roland TR-808.

Engineers Nine Times More Likely Than Expected To Become Terrorists ( 491 writes: Henry Farrel writes in the Washington Post that there's a group of people who appear to be somewhat prone to violent extremism: Engineers. They are nine times more likely to be terrorists than you would expect by chance. In a forthcoming book, Engineers of Jihad, published by Princeton University Press, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog provide a new theory explaining why engineers seem unusually prone to become involved in terrorist organizations. They say it's caused by the way engineers think about the world. Survey data indicates engineering faculty at universities are far more likely to be conservative than people with other degrees, and far more likely to be religious. They are seven times as likely to be both religious and conservative as social scientists. Gambetta and Hertog speculate that engineers combine these political predilections with a marked preference towards finding clearcut answers.

Gambetta and Hertog suggest that this mindset combines with frustrated expectations in many Middle Eastern and North African countries (PDF), and among many migrant populations, where people with engineering backgrounds have difficulty in realizing their ambitions for good and socially valued jobs. This explains why there are relatively few radical Islamists with engineering backgrounds in Saudi Arabia (where they can easily find good employment) and why engineers were more prone to become left-wing radicals in Turkey and Iran.

Some people might argue that terrorist groups want to recruit engineers because engineers have valuable technical skills that might be helpful, such as in making bombs. This seems plausible – but it doesn't seem to be true. Terrorist organizations don't seem to recruit people because of their technical skills, but because they seem trustworthy and they don't actually need many people with engineering skills. "Bomb-making and the technical stuff that is done in most groups is performed by very few people (PDF), so you don't need, if you have a large group, 40 or 50 percent engineers," says Hertog. "You just need a few guys to put together the bombs. So the scale of the overrepresentation, especially in the larger groups is not easily explained."


FAA To Drone Owners: Get Ready To Register To Fly ( 192

coondoggie writes: While an actual rule could be months away, drones weighing about 9 ounces or more will apparently need to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration going forward. The registration requirement and other details came form the government’s UAS Task Force which was created by the FAA last month and featured all manner of associates from Google, the Academy of Model Aeronautics and Air Line Pilots Association to Walmart, GoPro and Amazon. “By some estimates, as many as 400,000 new unmanned aircraft will be sold during the holiday season. Pilots with little or no aviation experience will be at the controls of many of these aircraft. Many of these new aviators may not even be aware that their activities in our airspace could be dangerous to other aircraft -- or that they are, in fact, pilots once they start flying their unmanned aircraft,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in announcing the task force’s results.

Amazon Screenplay-Writing Software Submits Work To Amazon Studios ( 33

An anonymous reader writes: Amazon has released new screenplay-writing software aimed to help connect new writing talent to its original content production company, Amazon Studios. Storywriter contains many of the autoformatting tools familiar to users of similar software such as Final Draft and Celtx, but no other screenwriting tool can claim to actually send unknown writers' output to potentially interested producers.

Leaked Documents Confirm Polygraph Operators Can't Detect Countermeasures ( 125

George Maschke writes: has published a document (14 MB PDF) on polygraph countermeasures that is allegedly derived from classified information. The document suggests techniques that polygraph operators might use in an attempt to detect efforts to beat the polygraph, but fails to offer any coherent strategy for detecting sophisticated countermeasures such as those outlined in's The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 MB PDF) or Doug Williams' How to Sting the Polygraph. Ominously, the leaked document avers that an examinee's stated lack of belief in polygraphy is a marker of deception. has also published an older U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations polygraph countermeasure handbook (3.2 MB PDF) that similarly offers no methodology for detecting sophisticated countermeasures (such as any actual spy, saboteur, or terrorist might be expected to use).

Why Free Services From Telecoms Can Be a Problem On the Internet 89 writes: T-Mobile said last week that it would let customers watch as many movies as they wanted on services like Netflix and HBO as well as all other kinds of video, without having it count against their monthly data plans. But the NYT editorializes that there are real concerns about whether such promotions could give telecommunications companies the ability to influence what services people use on the Internet, benefiting some businesses and hurting others. Earlier this year, the FCC adopted net neutrality rules to make sure that companies like T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast did not seek to push users toward some types of Internet services or content — like video — and not others. The rules, which telecom companies are trying to overturn in court, forbid phone and cable companies to accept money from Internet businesses like Amazon to deliver their videos to customers ahead of data from other companies. The rules, however, do not explicitly prevent telecom companies from coming up with "zero rating" plans like the one T-Mobile announced that use them treat, or rate, some content as free.

"Everybody likes free stuff, but the problem with such plans is that they allow phone and cable companies to steer their users to certain types of content. As a result, customers are less likely to visit websites that are not part of the free package." T-Mobile has said that its zero-rating plan, called Binge On, is good for consumers and for Internet businesses because it does not charge companies to be part of its free service. "Binge On is certainly better than plans in which websites pay telecom companies to be included," concludes The Times. "But it is not yet clear whether these free plans will inappropriately distort how consumers use the Internet."
Christmas Cheer

'Twas the Week Before the Week of Black Friday 146

theodp writes: It's almost time for America's answer to the Running of the Bulls (YouTube), kids. So, if you're dreaming of a cheap tech Christmas, it's time to peruse the 2015 Black Friday ads and make your game plan. Get lucky at Best Buy this year, and you could score a $299.99 Dell 15.6" touchscreen laptop (i3, 8GB memory, 1 TB HD), a $399.99 Microsoft 10.8" Surface 3 (Atom x7, 2GB memory, 64GB storage), $899.99 MacBook Pro 13.3" laptop (i5, 4GB memory, 500MB HD), $99 Acer 11.6" Chromebook (Celeron, 2GB memory, 16GB storage), or, for those on a tight budget, a $34.99 7" Amazon Fire tablet. Fight the crowds at Walmart, and you could snag a $199 HP 15.6" laptop (Celeron, 4GB memory, 500GB drive) or $199 iPad mini 2. And for stay-at-home shoppers, Dell's Windows 10 price-breakers include a $149.99 14" laptop (Celeron, 2GB memory, 32GB storage) and a $229 15.6" laptop (i3, 4GB memory, 500MB HD). So, in your experience, has Black Friday been like a claw machine — suckering you with big prizes, but never delivering — or have you actually walked away with a great deal?
Hardware Hacking

Hacked Amazon Echo Controls a Wheelchair ( 23

An anonymous reader writes with a cool hack for making an electric wheelchair voice activated. Robotics Trends reports: "Amazon Echo, which is designed around your voice, answers to 'Alexa' and can tell you scores, read your book, play your music, or check your calendar. And if you have a smart home, Echo can control lights and other technology. Bob Paradiso, however, wondered if he 'could push Echo's utility a little further.' He certainly did. Paradiso turned an electric wheelchair into a voice-controlled wheelchair using Echo, a Raspberry Pi and Arduino Uno. Echo thinks it's turning lights on and off, but it's really controlling the wheelchair. Paradiso says, 'Alexa, turn on left 4' and the wheelchair spins. He then says, 'Alexa, turn on forward 4' and the wheelchair moves forward."

Tech Pros' Struggle For Work-Life Balance Continues ( 195

Nerval's Lobster writes: Work-life balance among technology professionals is very much in the news following a much-discussed New York Times article about workday conditions at Amazon. That piece painted a picture of a harsh workplace where employees literally cried at their desks. While more tech companies are publicly talking about the need for work-life balance, do the pressures of delivering revenues, profits, and products make much of that chatter mere lip-service? Or are companies actually doing their best to ensure their workers are treated like human beings with lives outside of work?
The Internet

New Algorithm Recognizes Both Good and Bad Fake Reviews ( 59

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from the university of Sao Paolo have developed an algorithm able to identify both good and bad online reviews in the massive daily chatter of millions of peer-community posts, and in lateral mendacities at social network sites such as Google+ and Facebook reposts and 'likes'. Two of the datasets tested in the research were from Amazon, which has a vested interest in restoring the reputation of its community reviews, and has recently taken action on the matter.

New Book Sold Out Offers a Look At the H-1B Debate 331

theodp writes: The New York Post has published an excerpt from Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires and Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels Are Screwing America's Best and Brightest Workers, a new book on the H-1B debate from conservative syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin and programmer-turned-attorney John Miano. "Sold Out," notes a Computerworld review, "clearly has a point a view about the program (crapweasels, for instance), but it backs up its assertions and gives H-1B supporters a high threshold to cross. A serious argument in defense of the visa program requires explaining how America gains when a U.S. worker is replaced by a foreign visa holder hired to do the exact same job. If you are going to justify the H-1B program, then you have to defend firms that force their employees (no severance otherwise) to train their replacements. That may be the point here. This book lays bare the replacement process, the broad use of the H-1B visa by the IT offshore outsourcing industry, and the lobbying effort in Washington to minimalize the visa's use in displacing U.S. workers." With anecdotes like "how Microsoft wined and dined the Bush administration to expand the foreign worker supply through administrative fiat to circumvent public disclosure and congressional debate," the book seeks out a broader audience than just those already familiar with the H-1B issue.

App Companies Propose New Model For Worker Benefits ( 113

itwbennett writes: In late October, four delivery drivers for the app-based Amazon Prime Now service filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the company misclassifies its workers as contractors. In June, the California Labor Commission ruled that Uber drivers are employees, not contractors. Now, worker advocacy groups, companies offering services through apps (including Lyft, Etsy,, and Instacart), a variety of policy experts, and venture capitalists are proposing a new model for worker benefits that will be "portable" across the number of jobs they do in the new on-demand economy. "Self-employed workers choosing to engage in flexible work may also encounter unforeseen work disruptions or other hardships without the protections and benefits that may be provided through full time employment," the group said in a statement posted on Medium.

Video Harnessing Conflict in the Workplace (video) 93

Nigel Dessau has written a book titled Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack. One thing he mentions both in his book and in conversation is that you should harness conflict in the workplace rather than try to stop it. And the first name that came to mind was Linus Torvalds, and how kernel developer Sarah Sharp recently quit the kernel development team loudly and publicly because of Linus's 'Brutal' Communications Style. And now the Washington Post has put out an article under the headline, Net of Insecurity: The Kernel of the Argument, which is about Linus's management style and his recent conflicts with almost every Internet security maven within reach of his online writing. Meanwhile, at ZDNet, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols calls the Post article "re-bundled old FUD about Linux and the internet's security."

Nigel likes Linus (as do most people who've met him in person) and points out that Linus can get away with being somewhat prickly because he's a genius. The same could be said about the late Steve Jobs and a number of other interesting leaders in the computer business. And Nigel's book and this interview also talk about something that may be more important in the long run than this year's small spate of Linux publicity, namely mentoring and how it can help millennials become productive workers in knowledge fields -- which a whole bunch of them need to start doing PDQ because all the baby boomers everybody loves to hate are either retired already or will be retired before long.

Before Barbie's Brainy Makeover, Mattel Execs Met With White House, Google 125

theodp writes: Mattel came under fire last November over its portrayal of Computer Engineer Barbie as incompetent. But the toymaker is now drawing kudos for its new Imagine the Possibilities Barbie ad campaign (video), which shows little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings, including a college professor lecturing students about the brain. Ad Age, however, is cynical of the empowering spin on Barbie, which it says "comes across as a manipulative way to silence criticism." Interestingly, some of that criticism may have come from the White House.

WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.

The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.

Amazon Warns Employees About 'Million Mask March' On Seattle HQ Today ( 143

reifman writes: Amazon is warning employees not to wear clothing with company logos, and telling them to keep their badges out of sight as hundreds of people loyal to the hacktivist group Anonymous plan to march on the tech giant's Seattle headquarters this afternoon. A Facebook message from the Seattle-based group reads, "On November 5th, we will be rallying at Westlake Park in Seattle at 2pm, and then marching to the Federal Courthouse at 3pm, and from there, we shall march to Amazon for some serious lulz!. Teach-ins and rallies will continue throughout the remainder of the day."

Google Engineer Warns Against Perils of Buying Cheap, Third-Party USB-C Cables ( 206

MojoKid writes: A USB-C cable is just a cable. Or is it? Google engineer Benson Leung noted today that it's definitely not the case. Leung and his teammates at Google work inside of the Chromebook ecosystem, and as such, they've had lots of hands-on experience with USB-C cables. The Chromebook Pixel remains one of the very few notebooks on the market that directly supports USB-C. Nonetheless, in his experience, not all cables are built alike, and in some cases, cheap out-of-spec cables could potentially cause damage to your device. It's such a big problem, in fact, that Leung began buying cables off of Amazon and leaving his feedback on each one. Ultimately, what the problem boils down to is that some of the specifications in a cable may be not well controlled. He notes that in some bad cables, resistor values are incorrect, throwing off power specs wildly — 3A vs 2A in one example.
The Media

BBC Lets Viewers Buy Shows and Episodes Permanently, But No 'Extras' ( 80

An anonymous reader writes: The BBC has opened a new online store which lets viewers purchase TV programs that do not expire in its iPlayer streaming outlet after thirty days, but which apparently remain stored for streaming in the same style as Amazon's video purchases. The BBC claims the extensive archive inventory is available only to UK-based viewers, though its VPN-blocking attempts do not currently seem to prevent purchases from outside the country. Additionally the BBC's high-quality disc extras do not seem to have made the jump from disc to digital, signifying possible further decline for 'value added' features such as commentaries and documentaries in the future.

Cloud Growth Spurs Data Center Land Grab In Northern Virginia ( 20

1sockchuck writes: Data center developers are buying up land in northern Virginia, preparing for explosive growth of cloud computing infrastructure. Digital Realty just bought land in Ashburn, Virginia to support 2 million square feet of data center space, while DuPont Fabros, RagingWire and Sabey have also locked up land parcels for future growth. Why is Ashburn so hot? Cloud builders crave proximity to an Internet exchange operated by Equinix, which itself just bought land for another 1 million square feet of colocation space. That's one of the reasons why Amazon Web Services operates more than 20 data centers in northern Virginia. "Data center demand is stronger today than it's ever been," said Bill Stein, the CEO of Digital Realty.