Facebook has announced an agreement to buy WhatsApp, the mobile messaging platform used by over 450 million people. The deal involves $4 billion in cash and an additional $12 billion in Facebook stock. They say WhatsApp will remain independent; its headquarters won't move, and it will continue to exist separately from Facebook's Messenger app. Mark Zuckerberg indicated they will focus on growth: 'Over the next few years, we're going to work hard to help WhatsApp grow and connect the whole world. We also expect that WhatsApp will add to our efforts for Internet.org, our partnership to make basic internet services affordable for everyone.' On WhatsApp's blog, they say, "Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing. WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently."
StartsWithABang writes "So unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that it's only a few short weeks until the premiere of the new Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey starring Neil de Grasse Tyson. Many have hopes (and fears) concerning what the series will (and won't) be, but this perspective — on what a 'successful' Cosmos series could mean for the future of humanity — is worth a read for anyone who hasn't given up on dreaming big."
An anonymous reader writes "A secretive EU body has agreed to develop a device to be fitted to all cars allowing police to cut off any engine at will, it emerged today. The device, which could be imposed within a decade, would also allow police to track a vehicle's movements as well as immobilise it. According to The Daily Telegraph a group of senior EU officials, including several Home Office mandarins, have signed off the proposal at a secret meeting in Brussels."
First time accepted submitter Sensei_knight writes "How serendipitous! Today I see Slashdot also has an article linking caffeine to long-term memory, but I digress. Recently I returned to college in my 30s, after battling a childhood sleep disorder, and I now discover staying awake might be the least of my troubles. Now that I failed a few classes I'm trying to analyze and overcome the causes of this recent disaster. Two things are obvious: First, it takes me way too long to complete tasks (as if suffering from time dilation) — tests take me approximately twice the amount of time to finish [and the amount of time it takes to study and do homework is cumulative and unsustainable]. Secondly, I just can't seem to remember a whole lot. I know sleep and memory are very closely related, perhaps that's why I have never been able to commit the times tables to memory. My research on the subject of memory has not been very fruitful, therefore I want to ask for input into which angle/direction I should look into next. As for cognitive speed, I have completely drawn a blank."
An anonymous reader writes "Ok, fellow geeks... I have the luxury of finally building my dream home from scratch. It's going to be good sized (~4000 sq ft over 3 levels), and rather than run around at night to make sure my lights are off, doors are locked, garage is closed, etc, I really want to put in a home automation system. Since the walls aren't up, this is the time for complete flexibility as to my options. The last time I did a whole house, it was years ago, X10. Since then, lots of other protocols, both 'proprietary' and more general (like WiFi) have come on the market for devices — all better than what I've worked with in the past. What do you all have experience with and recommend as reliable, secure, and fairly easy to use? Something with a good chance for long term availability of parts and features would be a bonus."
ananyo writes "A swarm of small satellites set to deliver close to real-time imagery of swathes of the planet is launching today. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, founded in 2010 by three former NASA scientists, is scheduled to launch 28 of its 'Doves' on 9 January. Each toaster-sized device weighs about 5 kilograms and can take images at a resolution of 3–5 metres. Meanwhile Skybox Imaging plans to launch a swarm of 24 satellites, each weighing about 100 kilograms, which will take images of 1 meter resolution or better. Skybox launched its first satellite on 21 November (and captured the first HD video of the world from space) and plans to launch another this year, followed by the remainder between 2015 and 2017. In a first — at least for civilian satellites — Skybox's devices will also stream short segments of near-live high-resolution video footage of the planet. So, too, will UrtheCast, a start-up based in Vancouver, Canada, whose cameras will hitch a ride on the International Space Station. Because the swarms are still to be launched, scientists have yet to fully assess the quality of the imagery. But the satellites' spatial resolutions of 1–5 metres are much higher than those of most scientific satellites. Landsat, NASA's Earth-observation workhorse, for example, has a resolution of 15–100 metres depending on the spectral frequency, with 30 metres in the visible-light range."
slew writes "Although the robot technically cheats because it watches your hand and can recognize what shape you are intending to make and beat it before you even know what is happening. Apparently it takes about 60ms for you to shape your hand, but the robot can recognize the shape before it is completed, and only takes 20ms to counter your shape so the results appear to the human opponent to be virtually simultaneous. I wonder how difficult it would be to add lizard and spock to the mix.... ;^)."
wjcofkc writes "The United States Government has officially called in the calvary over the problems with Healthcare.gov. Tech titans Oracle, Red Hat and Google have been tapped to join the effort to fix the website that went live a month ago, only to quickly roll over and die. While a tech surge of engineers to fix such a complex problem is arguably not the greatest idea, if you're going to do so, you might as well bring in the big guns. The question is: can they make the end of November deadline?"
An anonymous reader writes "According to the Washington Post, 'Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he once feared that terrorists could use the electrical device that had been implanted near his heart to kill him and had his doctor disable its wireless function. Cheney has a history of heart trouble, suffering the first of five heart attacks at age 37. ... In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, Cheney says doctors replaced an implanted defibrillator near his heart in 2007. The device can detect irregular heartbeats and control them with electrical jolts. Cheney says that he and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, turned off the device's wireless function in case a terrorist tried to send his heart a fatal shock.' More at CBS News."
New submitter Maser_24 writes with news about continued action against Google for snooping on unsecured Wi-Fi networks when collecting data for Street View. From the article: "A federal appeals court this week ruled that Google could be held liable for civil damages for the company's 2011 scandal involving the company's collection of Wi-Fi data from unsecured hotspots using their Street View vehicles. To come to that conclusion, the court followed a rather unique logic path; according to the court, unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are not 'radio communications' that are 'readily accessible' to the general public and therefore Google violated the Wiretap Act." This despite being cleared of wrongdoing by the FCC.
cold fjord writes with this snippet from The Guardian: "The high court has granted the Metropolitan police extended powers to investigate whether crimes related to terrorism and breaches of the Official Secrets Act have been committed following the seizure of data at Heathrow from David Miranda... At a hearing ... lawyers for Miranda said they had agreed to the terms of wider police powers to investigate a hard drive and memory sticks containing encrypted material that were seized on 18 August. Previously the inspection had been conducted on the narrower grounds of national security. Following the court ruling, the police will now be allowed to examine the material to investigate whether a crime of 'communication of material to an enemy' has been committed as well as possible crimes of communication of material about members of the military and intelligence services that could be useful to terrorists." Related: Reader hazeii writes "The BBC are reporting that the files seized from David Miranda (as a potential terrorist — see the earlier Slashdot story) 'endanger agents' lives.' Given that Miranda (and other Guardian journalists) seem to have been exceedingly careful not to release anything that could actually damage national security, and that the source of this information is a 'senior cabinet adviser,' one wonders what exactly the point of this 'news' is."
Nerval's Lobster writes "For quite some time, some economists and social scientists have argued that advances in robotics and computer technology are systematically wrecking the job prospects of human beings. Back in June, for example, an MIT Technology Review article detailed Erik Brynjolfsson (a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management) and a co-author suggesting that the evolution of computer technology was "largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years." Of course, technological change and its impact on the workforce is nothing new; just look at the Industrial Revolution, when labor-saving devices put many a hard-working homo sapien out of economic commission. But how far can things go? There are even arguments that the technology behind Google's Self-Driving Car, which allows machines to rapidly adapt to situations, could put whole new subsets of people out of jobs."
An anonymous reader notes that Skype is reportedly working on a 3D version of its messaging application. As reported by the BBC, an unnamed senior executive says that rumors to this effect are true. However, don't get too worked up about sending your avatar to school or to work just yet: Microsoft's corporate vice-president for Skype, Mark Gillett, says that "the capture devices are not yet there. As we work with that kind of technology you have to add multiple cameras to your computer, precisely calibrate them and point them at the right angle. ... We have it in the lab, we know how to make it work and we're looking at the ecosystem of devices and their capability to support it in order to make a decision when we might think about bringing something like that to market." Also at SlashBI.
An anonymous reader writes with revelations that the UK government has been pressuring the Guardian over its publication of the Snowden leaks for a while, and that it ultimately ended with GHCQ officials smashing drives of data to pieces. From the article: "The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: 'You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.' ... one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred — with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. 'We can call off the black helicopters,' joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro." The paper had repeatedly pointed out how pointless destroying the data was: copies exist, and all reporting on the Snowden leaks is already being edited and published from locations other than the UK.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Three years ago, game designer and author Jane McGonigal argued that saving the human race is going to require a major time investment—in playing video games. 'If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week [up from 3 billion today], by the end of the next decade,' she said in a TED talk. Her message was not ignored—and it has indirectly contributed to the formation of something called the Internet Response League (IRL). The small group has a big goal: to harness gamers' time and use it to save lives after disasters, natural or otherwise. The idea is to insert micro-tasks into games, specifically asking gamers to tag photos of disaster areas. With the IRL plugin, each image would be shown to at least three people, who tag the photo as showing no damage, mild damage, or severe damage. The Internet Response League has been in talks with a couple of indie developers, including one that's developing a new MMO. Mosur said they've tried to get in touch with World of Warcraft maker Blizzard, but haven't had any luck yet. Blizzard did not return a request for comment from Slashdot."