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Submission + - "Hello Barbie" Listens To Children Via Cloud

jones_supa writes: For a long time we have had toys that talk back to their owners, but a new "smart" Barbie doll's eavesdropping and data-gathering functions have privacy advocates crying foul. Toymaker Mattel bills Hello Barbie as the world's first "interactive doll" due to its ability to record children's playtime conversations and respond to them, once the audio is transmitted over WiFi to a cloud server. In a demo video, a Mattel presenter at the 2015 Toy Fair in New York says the new doll fulfills the top request that Mattel receives from girls: to have a two-way dialogue. "They want to have a conversation with Barbie," she said, adding that the new toy will be "the very first fashion doll that has continuous learning, so that she can have a unique relationship with each girl." Susan Linn, the executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has written a statement in which she says how the product is seriously creepy and creates a host of dangers for children and families. She asks people to join her in a petition under the proposal of Mattel discontinuing the toy.

Submission + - Kim Stanley Robinson Says Colonizing Mars Won't Be As Easy As He Thought ( 1

An anonymous reader writes: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy filled us all with hope that we could terraform Mars in the 21st century, with its plausible description of terraforming processes. But now, in the face of what we've learned about Mars in the past 20 years, he no longer thinks it'll be that easy.

Talking to SETI's Blog Picture Science podcast, Robinson explains that his ideas about terraforming Mars, back in the 1990s, were based on three assumptions that have been called into question or disproved:

1) Mars doesn't have any life on it at all. And now, it's looking more likely that there could be bacteria living beneath the surface. "That's going to be very hard to disprove," says Robinson. "We could be intruding on alien life."

2) There would be enough of the chemical compounds we need to survive. In particular, we need a lot of nitrogen â" and scientists had expected there to be a lot, based on the ordinary distribution of elements in planetary accretion. But there's much less nitrogen on Mars than we'd hoped.

3) There's nothing poisonous to us on the surface. In fact, the surface is covered with perchlorates, which are highly toxic to humans, and the original Viking mission did not detect these. We could use bacteria to dispose of them, but it would be a very long-term process.

"It's no longer a simple matter," Robinson says. "It's possible that we could occupy, inhabit and terraform Mars. But it's probably going to take a lot longer than I described in my books."

Instead, Robinson says that Mars can't serve as a "backup planet," and that we need to fix our problems here on Earth if we're to have any hope of surviving for the timescales needed to set up an eventual colony there.

Submission + - Strange Stars Pulse to the Golden Mean (

An anonymous reader writes: What struck John Learned about the blinking of KIC 5520878, a bluish-white star 16,000 light-years away, was how artificial it seemed.

Learned, a neutrino physicist at the University of Hawaii, Mnoa, has a pet theory that super-advanced alien civilizations might send messages by tickling stars with neutrino beams, eliciting Morse code-like pulses. “It’s the sort of thing tenured senior professors can get away with,” he said. The pulsations of KIC 5520878, recorded recently by NASA’s Kepler telescope, suggested that the star might be so employed.

A “variable” star, KIC 5520878 brightens and dims in a six-hour cycle, seesawing between cool-and-clear and hot-and-opaque. Overlaying this rhythm is a second, subtler variation of unknown origin; this frequency interplays with the first to make some of the star’s pulses brighter than others. In the fluctuations, Learned had identified interesting and, he thought, possibly intelligent sequences, such as prime numbers (which have been floated as a conceivable basis of extraterrestrial communication). He then found hints that the star’s pulses were chaotic.

But when Learned mentioned his investigations to a colleague, William Ditto, last summer, Ditto was struck by the ratio of the two frequencies driving the star’s pulsations.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the golden mean.’”

Submission + - Ask Slashdot: Why there is not a campaign against "Cloud Exclusive Hardware" ?

martiniturbide writes: Today we can see a lot of hardware that is being sold that only works only against a cloud. There are many examples, like the Belkin NetCam HD+ (wifi webcam) that only works if you run it against their service (by seedonk) and if you don’t want to use their cloud, this hardware is useless. This is happening with a lot of new hardware and it does mean that you get the device cheap for being locked to their cloud, you are paying full price for this devices. On the internet there are just little groups trying to hack some of this hardware, but the consumer does not seems to care that if the manufacturer discontinue the service the hardware will be useless. Why there are no complains against this kind of hardware on the internet? Is it useless to fight “cloud exclusive hardware”? Should we care about it? Or we are so used to disposable hardware that we don’t care anymore?

Submission + - Apple, Microsoft and Google need just one mobile improvement -- battery life (

Mark Wilson writes: Let’s face it, you’ve picked the mobile operating system you like. Whether you’ve opted for an iPhone, a Lumia handset or a device running Android, the chances are you’re not going to switch allegiances no matter what others may do or say to try to convince you otherwise. At the same time, few people would argue that their handset of choice is perfect.

You’ve picked your side when it comes to OS, but what about the handset itself? Apple, Samsung, HTC et al keep releasing slightly tweaked versions of last year’s handset, perhaps adding a faster processor, a larger screen and more memory. One thing is constantly overlooked, however — battery life. And it’s time for things to change.

Submission + - Why Computers Still Struggle To Tell the Time ( 1

itwbennett writes: It’s pretty much impossible for a computer to keep exact time, although accuracy can be improved to the extent that users are willing to spend more money on the problem, said George Neville-Neil, a software engineer who helps financial institutions and other time-sensitive organizations maintain ultra-precise measurements of time. To keep internal time, computers use a crystal oscillator that creates an electromagnetic signal, or a vibration that the computer uses to coordinate processor, memory, bus and motherboard operations. But computer makers often use inexpensive crystals costing only a few cents each, which can compromise accuracy. 'If you buy server-class hardware, you will get cheap crystal, and time will wander if you don’t do something about it,' Neville-Neil said.

Submission + - The Groups Behind Making Distributed Solar Power Harder to Adopt (

Lucas123 writes: Distributed rooftop solar is a threat not only to fossil fuel power generation, but also to the profits of monopolistic model of utilities. While the overall amount of electrical capacity represented by distributed solar power remains miniscule for now, it's quickly becoming one of leading sources of new energy deployment. As adoption grows, fossil fuel interests and utilities are succeeding in pushing anti-net metering legislation, which places surcharges on customers who deploy rooftop solar power and sell unused power back to their utility through the power grid. Other state legislation is aimed at reducing tax credits for households or businesses installing solar or allows utilities to buy back unused power at a reduced rate, while reselling it at the full retail price.

Submission + - The burden of intellectual property rights on clean-energy technologies (

Lasrick writes: If climate change is to be addressed effectively in the long run, nations of all descriptions must pursue mitigation and adaptation strategies. But poor countries face a potential hurdle when it comes to clean-energy technologies—most of the relevant intellectual property is held in the rich world. Many observers argue that it's unfair and unrealistic to expect massive energy transformations in the developing world unless special allowances are made. Yet intellectual property rights are intended in part to spur the very innovation on which climate mitigation depends. This article is the first post in a roundtable that debates this question: In developing countries, how great an impediment to the growth of low-carbon energy systems does the global intellectual property rights regime represent, and how could the burdens for poor countries be reduced?

Submission + - Holder Considering Forcing Gun Owners To Wear Tracking Bracelets ( 1

mpicpp writes: The Attorney General told a House subcommittee they’re considering “gun-tracking bracelets” as a “common sense” way to reduce gun violence.

Eric Holder said the Obama Administration is looking at several technological innovations to reduce the number of stolen guns being used in crime.

“I think that one of the things that we learned when we were trying to get passed those common sense reforms last year, Vice President Biden and I had a meeting with a group of technology people and we talked about how guns can be made more safe,” he said.

“By making them either through finger print identification, the gun talks to a bracelet or something that you might wear, how guns can be used only by the person who is lawfully in possession of the weapon.”

“It’s those kinds of things that I think we want to try to explore so that we can make sure that people have the ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights, but at the same time decreasing the misuse of weapons that lead to the kinds of things that we see on a daily basis,” Holder said.

Submission + - Node.js Announces Move To Open Governance Model, Establishes Node.js Foundation

rjmarvin writes: Node.js is moving to an open governance model under the auspices of the newly announced Node.js Foundation Cloud infrastructure company Joyent, the corporate steward behind the open-source runtime technology, announced the establishment of an independent Node.js Foundation with Fidelity, IBM, Microsoft and PayPal as founding members. “In the overall model for where the project should reside, we set about creating this foundation allowing us to drive a healthy ecosystem and a vibrant community without snuffing out innovation, and without parts of the community feeling excluded or disenfranchised,” said Joyent CEO Scott Hammond in an interview with SD Times, where he also talked about keeping up with the Chrome V8 JavaScript engine, how the community feels about the io.js fork, and the release of Node.js 0.12 along the roadmap to version 1.0.

Submission + - Better, Faster, Stronger--the Onion Omega (the next IoT enabler?) (

codguy writes: Looks like the Onion Omega ( could be the next cool IoT (Internet of Things) enabler out there. It's just 28mm x 52mm, but is a full 400MHz OpenWRT Linux computer (i.e. programmable in Python, Node.JS, PHP, Ruby, Lua, etc.), 64MB RAM, 16MB flash, built-in wireless connectivity, 16 GPIO for actually doing things. And again, all this in a tiny ~3cm x ~5cm package! I want one, no wait, I want many! It's supposedly heading to Kickstarter soon with a public release planned for Q3 2015. Let's hope the price is reasonably low so it becomes ubiquitous!

Submission + - House and Senate Science Committees in Creationists Hands. ( 3

willy everlearn writes: Does anyone else find it scary that we have put creationists on both the House and Senate's science committies? The very core of a creationist's argument is"No matter what evidence you show me my belief will continue." Extend this to Climate Change, Vaccinations or any other of myriad topices these right wing hold as sacred. What can we do about it?

Submission + - Verizon Grateful To Researcher Who Spotted Flaw In MyFiOS App (

jfruh writes: When Randy Westergren, acting out of curiosity, investigated Verizon's Android MyFiOS app for security vulnerabilities, he spotted some big ones, and let the telecom giant know about them. Somewhat amazingly, Verizon didn't react by punishing the messenger, but rather fixed the problems right away and gave him a free year of FiOS for his trouble.

Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man -- who has no gills. -- Ambrose Bierce