Cellphones

Smartphones May Soon Provide Earthquake Warnings (sciencemag.org) 32

sciencehabit writes: When it comes to an earthquake, just a few seconds' warning could make the difference between life and death. But many earthquake-prone countries lack the seismic networks that would give their citizens the lead time to find cover or shut down critical utilities. Now, a group of enterprising engineers is looking at a substitute network: smartphones. Using smartphones' built-in accelerometers, researchers have invented an app, released today, that they say can detect strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. MyShake, as the app is called, could become the basis for an earthquake warning system for the world's most vulnerable regions.
Earth

Drivers Need To Forget Their GPS 528

HughPickens.com writes: Greg Milner writes in the NYT that an American tourist in Iceland directed the GPS unit in his rental car to guide him from Keflavik International Airport to a hotel in nearby Reykjavik, and ended up 250 icy miles away in Siglufjordur, a fishing village on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle. Mr. Santillan apparently explained that he was very tired after his flight and had "put his faith in the GPS." In another incident, a woman in Belgium asked GPS to take her to a destination less than two hours away and two days later, she turned up in Croatia. Finally disastrous incidents involving drivers following disused roads and disappearing into remote areas of Death Valley in California have became so common that park rangers gave them a name: "death by GPS." "If we're being honest, it's not that hard to imagine doing something similar ourselves" says Milner. "Most of us use GPS as a crutch while driving through unfamiliar terrain, tuning out and letting that soothing voice do the dirty work of navigating."

Could society's embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps? Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg's Center for Cognitive Science, says the danger of GPS is that "we are not forced to remember or process the information — as it is permanently 'at hand,' we need not think or decide for ourselves." "Next time you're in a new place, forget the GPS device. Study a map to get your bearings, then try to focus on your memory of it to find your way around. City maps do not tell you each step, but they provide a wealth of abstract survey knowledge. Fill in these memories with your own navigational experience, and give your brain the chance to live up to its abilities."
Programming

AWS Terms of Service Offer a Break If Zombie Apocalypse Occurs (windowsitpro.com) 57

v3rgEz writes: Running at over 50 sections and hundreds of subsections, Amazon AWS's terms of service are somewhat exhaustive, but there's one paragraph that might catch your eye. As of yesterday's update, Amazon has added a section that nullifies restrictions on the use of their Lumberyard game platform in the event of a zombie outbreak. Pre-apocalypse, the terms of service prohibit the use of the engine to manage life-or-death situations, but being able to spin up a zombie firefight simulator at a moment's notice might come in handy. You do have to wonder, though: Does Jeff Bezos know something we don't? Lawyers typically don't approve of Easter Eggs in legal documents.
Earth

Meteorite Strike Kills Man In India 130

knwny writes: In what is believed to be the first such incident in modern times, a meteorite strike in India killed a man and injured three others. According to police sources, a loud blast was heard at the site of the strike which also left a four-feet deep crater. Preliminary investigation by forensic and bomb experts showed no sign of any explosive substance at the scene. The second link has a picture of the supposed crater which I believe will interest Slashdotters with experience in this area.
Moon

Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 (examiner.com) 113

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 85. He flew as lunar module pilot on board Apollo 14, which flew to and from the moon between January 31, 1971 and February 9, 1971. His crewmates were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. Apollo 14 was the return to flight for the moon landing program after the near disaster of Apollo 13 in April 1970, and explored the Fra Mauro highlands on the lunar surface. NASA marks Mitchell's passing as well.
Bug

Some Reversible USB-C Cables/Adapters Could Cause Irreversible Damage 136

TheRealHocusLocus writes: Three Decembers ago I lauded the impending death of the trapezoid. Celebration of the rectangle might be premature however, because in the rush-to-market an appalling number of chargers, cables and legacy adapters have been discovered to be non-compliant. There have been performance issues with bad USB implementation all along, but now — with improved conductors USB-C offers to negotiate up to 3A in addition the 900ma base, so use of a non-compliant adapter may result in damage. Google engineer and hero Benson Leung has been waging a one-man compliance campaign of Amazon reviews to warn of dodgy devices and praise the good. Reddit user bmcclure937 offers a spreadsheet summary of the reviews. It's a jungle out there, don't get fried.
Toys

German Inventor, Innovator and Businessman Artur Fischer Dies At Age of 96 38

Qbertino writes: As Spiegel.de reports (German link) inventor Artur Fischer has died at the age of 96. Artur Fischer is a classic example of the innovator and businessman of post-war Germany — he invented the synchronous flash for photography, the famed Fischer Fixing (aka Screwanchor/rawlplug or "Dübel" in German) and the Fischer Technik Construction Sets with which many a nerd grew up with, including the famous C64 Fischer Robotics Kit of the 80s. His heritage includes an impressive portfolio of over 1100 patents and he reportedly remained inventive and interested in solving technical problems til the very end. ... Rest in piece and thanks for the hours of fun tinkering with Fischertechnik. ... Now where did that old C64 robot go?
NASA

30 Years Since The Challenger Disaster: Where Were You? (space.com) 320

Martin S. writes: Thirty years ago today, NASA suffered a spaceflight tragedy that stunned the world and changed the agency forever. When I mentioned this at work most of my colleagues are too young to remember this first hand. When I heard the news, I was in a middle-school science class; our teacher walked us solemnly over to the school library, where we watched the television news. It hit especially hard because one of our other teachers had pursued the slot that was eventually filled by Christa McAuliffe.

The Tragedy Of Apollo 1 And The Lessons That Brought Us To The Moon (forbes.com) 118

An anonymous reader writes: On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew was performing a "plugs-out" test of the Command/Service Module, an essential simulation of how the three-person capsule would perform under in-space conditions under its own power. At 6:30 PM, a voltage spike occurred, leading to a disaster. In 26 seconds, everything changed. The Apollo 1 fire and the tragic death of all three astronauts wasn't due to just a single point-of-failure, but rather due to five independent confounding factors that if any one of them had been different, the astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee might have survived. As it stands, all the crewed Apollo missions were scrapped for 20 months while NASA changed how they did business. The changes worked remarkably well, and 2.5 years later, humans walked on the Moon.
AI

Marvin Minsky, Pioneer In Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88 (nytimes.com) 76

An anonymous reader sends word that Marvin Lee Minsky, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, has died. The Times reports: "Marvin Minsky, who combined a scientist’s thirst for knowledge with a philosopher’s quest for truth as a pioneering explorer of artificial intelligence, work that helped inspire the creation of the personal computer and the Internet, died on Sunday night in Boston. He was 88. Well before the advent of the microprocessor and the supercomputer, Professor Minsky, a revered computer science educator at M.I.T., laid the foundation for the field of artificial intelligence by demonstrating the possibilities of imparting common-sense reasoning to computers."
Programming

Software Hall of Fame Member Ed Yourdon Dies (wikipedia.org) 67

New submitter andyjl writes: The software industry lost one of its pioneers on Tuesday, January 20, 2016 when Ed Yourdon died from post-operative complications. Ed was a pioneer of Structured Programming methodologies, and was a prodigious author of software-related books, including topics such as "death march" projects, and the problems of Y2K. He was also a personal friend and fellow forensic software analyst specializing in the analysis of failed software development projects and the lack of software development disciplines. He once told me that he read a item on the Internet (which I cannot find) that said, "whenever a programmer writes a GOTO statement, somewhere a Yourdon dies." I am forced to conclude that one of you programmers out there did indeed write a GOTO statement on Tuesday and I want to know who it was. Look at what you did! Did you really have to use a GOTO? Adds reader theodp: Yourdon was a successful author, whose Slashdot-reviewed books included Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer, Death March: The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving "Mission Impossible" Projects, Byte Wars: The Impact of September 11 on Information Technology, and Outsourcing: Competing in the Global Productivity Race. Yourdon's Time Bomb 2000!: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You!, written with daughter Jennifer, was a Y2K best-seller.
Transportation

Volvo Promises 'Death-Proof' Cars By 2020 (extremetech.com) 229

mrspoonsi sends news that Swedish automaker Volvo has issued a bold promise: by 2020, there will be no serious injuries or fatalities in new Volvo cars. Volvo already has various smart features in its cars, but by combining them all, it becomes much harder to end up in a serious accident. Adaptive cruise control for example, is already available on many cars. It allows you to set a maximum speed, but uses radar to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you. It can even apply the brakes if need be. This can be taken a step further with full collision avoidance. When a crash is likely, the driver will be warned. If action isn't taken, the car can begin braking to avoid, or at least minimize the impact. ... Cameras will also be used to watch for pedestrians in the vicinity of the vehicle. This is similar to the technology that is used in self-driving cars to identify potential obstacles on the road.
Earth

An Ancient, Brutal Massacre May Be the Earliest Evidence of War 151

HughPickens.com writes: Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection while others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided. Now James Gorman writes in the NY Times that scientists have discovered a site in Africa dated about 10,000 years ago where a group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wound. It's not clear that anyone was spared at the Nataruk massacre. Of the 27 individuals found, eight were male and eight female, with five adults of unknown gender. The site also contained the partial remains of six children. Twelve of the skeletons were in a relatively complete state, and ten of those showed very clear evidence that they had met a violent end. In the paper, the researchers describe "extreme blunt-force trauma to crania and cheekbones, broken hands, knees and ribs, arrow lesions to the neck, and stone projectile tips lodged in the skull and thorax of two men." Four of them, including a late-term pregnant woman, appear to have had their hands bound. "These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers," says Dr Marta Mirazon.

The killers carried weapons they wouldn't have used for hunting and fishing, including clubs of various sizes and a combination of close-proximity weapons like knives and distance weapons, including the arrow projectiles she calls a hallmark of inter-group conflict. " This suggests premeditation and planning," says Mirazon Lahr. Other, isolated examples of period violence have previously been found in the area, and those featured projectiles crafted of obsidian, which is rare in the area but also seen in the Nataruk wounds. This suggests that the attackers may have been from another area, and that multiple attacks were likely a feature of life at the time. "This implies that the resources the people of Nataruk had at the time were valuable and worth fighting for, whether it was water, dried meat or fish, gathered nuts or indeed women and children. This shows that two of the conditions associated with warfare among settled societies—control of territory and resources—were probably the same for these hunter-gatherers, and that we have underestimated their role in prehistory."
Twitter

Twitter Sued For Giving Voice To Islamic State (reuters.com) 191

An anonymous reader writes: An American woman named Tamara Fields has sued Twitter in U.S. federal court, saying the social network gave the Islamic State a voice to spread its propaganda. Fields's husband died on November 9, when the terrorist organization attacked a police training center in Amman, Jordan. The complaint alleges, "Without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible." At the end of 2015, Twitter stepped up its efforts (or at least its official policies) to block such content from its site. But the company has been under fire for over a year from citizens and law enforcement officials over the activity of various terrorist groups on its platform. Fields's attorneys hope that her husband's death will give her proper standing to challenge Twitter in court.
Medicine

New Ebola Case Emerges In Sierra Leone (bbc.com) 19

An anonymous reader writes: Just hours after the World Health Organization declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, officials from Sierra Leone confirmed a death from the virus. The country was declared free of Ebola on November 7. "Ebola test center spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis told the BBC that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district. He had traveled there from Kambia, close to the border with Guinea." WHO was quick to put out another press release saying there is an ongoing risk of flareups, and local governments and medical workers need to remain vigilant.
Transportation

Obama Proposes $4 Billion Investment In Self-Driving Cars (transportation.gov) 276

An anonymous reader writes: The Obama Administration has unveiled a proposal for a 10-year, $4 billion investment in the adoption of autonomous car technology. The money would fund pilot projects to, among other things, "test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common multistate framework for connected and autonomous vehicles." The administration says it has an interest in cutting the death toll — over 30,000 people each year in the U.S. — associated with traffic accidents. The proposal also calls for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work with industry to resolve regulatory issues before they inhibit development of self-driving cars. "This is the right way to drive innovation," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Earth

Urban Death Project Aims To Rebuild Our Soil By Composting Corpses (inhabitat.com) 197

An anonymous reader writes: The Urban Death Project utilizes the process of composting to safely and gently turn our deceased into soil-building material, creating a meaningful, equitable and ecological urban alternative to existing options for the disposition of the dead," said Katrina Spade, a designer based in Seattle. "The project is a solution to the overcrowding of city cemeteries, a sustainable method of disposing of our dead, and a new ritual for laying our loved ones to rest."
Movies

RIP Alan Rickman, AKA Hans Gruber, Severus Snape (variety.com) 174

TigerPlish writes to note Variety's report on the death of actor Alan Rickman, who died after a short bout with cancer, and was surrounded by friends and family when he went. Rickman may be most familiar to you as Hans Gruber in Die Hard (especially in his final scene), or as Harry Potter's Snape, but his film career was long, crossing genre lines and extending into five decades.
Security

Ann Caracristi, Who Cracked Codes, and the Glass Ceiling At NSA, Dies At 94 (washingtonpost.com) 96

An anonymous reader writes with this story at The Washington Post about the life and death of Ann Caracristi. From the article: "Ann Caracristi, who became one of the highest ranking and most honored women at the code breaking National Security Agency after a career extending from World War II through much of the Cold War, died Jan. 10 at her home in Washington. She was 94. ... Ms. Caracristi formally retired from her intelligence career in 1982, after becoming the sixth deputy director of the NSA . . . She was the first woman to serve as deputy director. One of her strengths was reconstructing enemy code books, said Liza Mundy, a former Washington Post staff writer who is working on a book about U.S. female code breakers during the war. Admired for her early accomplishments as a young woman in wartime Washington, Ms. Caracristi was credited in her later career with providing leadership for new generations of code breakers and for her efforts to bring computers and technology to bear on the work. ... One of her jobs at the NSA was as chief from 1959 to 1980 of branches devoted to research and operations. Her honors there included the Defense Department's Distinguished Civilian Service Award and the National Security Medal, among other top federal honors. After retiring, she began serving on a variety of prominent scientific, defense and intelligence advisory boards and committees."
Security

New WiFi HaLow Protocol May Bring Old Security Issues With It 65

Trailrunner7 writes: Perhaps because smart lightbulbs that refuse firmware updates and refrigerators with blue screens of death aren't enough fun on their own, a new WiFi protocol designed specifically for IoT devices and appliances is on the horizon, bringing with it all of the potential security challenges you've come to know and love in WiFi classic. The new protocol is based on the 802.11ah standard from the IEEE and is being billed as Wi-Fi HaLow by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Wi-Fi HaLow differs from the wireless signal that most current devices uses in a couple of key ways. First, it's designed as a low-powered protocol and will operate in the range below one gigahertz. Second, the protocol will have a much longer range than traditional Wi-Fi, a feature that will make it attractive for use in applications such as connecting traffic lights and cameras in smart cities. But, as with any new protocol or system, Wi-Fi HaLow will carry with it new security considerations to face. And one of the main challenges will be securing all of the various implementations of the protocol.

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