Google

Google's $20 Million Race To the Moon Will End With No Winner -- and Google is OK With That (cnbc.com) 1

Michael Sheetz, reporting for CNBC: More than ten years after it was announced -- and extended over and over -- the Google-sponsored race to win $20 million by landing on the moon will end with no winners. The four teams racing to win the Google Lunar Xprize, which requires a company to land a spacecraft on the moon by March 31, are either short of money or unable to launch this year, three people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Meanwhile, Google -- which extended the deadline from 2012 to 2014 and then eventually to 2018 -- is not willing to push out the date further. "Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. The commercial space industry has written off the Lunar Xprize as improbable, and not worth pursuing, according to sources.
Facebook

Facebook Says It Can't Guarantee Social Media is Good For Democracy (reuters.com) 34

Facebook said on Monday that it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy, but noted that it was trying what it could to stop alleged meddling in elections by Russia or anyone else. From a report: The sharing of false or misleading headlines on social media has become a global issue, after accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States, Britain and France. Moscow denies the allegations.

Facebook, the largest social network with more than 2 billion users, addressed social media's role in democracy in blog posts from a Harvard University professor, Cass Sunstein, and from an employee working on the subject. "I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can't," Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager, wrote in his post. Facebook, he added, has a "moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible."

Android

Yale Privacy Lab and Exodus Privacy's F-Droid Android App Store is a Replacement for Google Play That Features Only FOSS Apps That Don't Do Any Tracking (wired.com) 24

Google Play, the marquee Android apps store, is filled with apps that are riddled with hidden trackers that siphon a smorgasbord of data from all sensors, in all directions, unknown to the Android user. Not content with the strides Google has made to curtail the issue, Yale Privacy Lab has collaborated with Exodus Privacy to detect and expose trackers with the help of the F-Droid app store. From a report on Wired: F-Droid is the best replacement for Google Play, because it only offers FOSS apps without tracking, has a strict auditing process, and may be installed on most Android devices without any hassles or restrictions. F-Droid doesn't offer the millions of apps available in Google Play, so some people will not want to use it exclusively. It's true that Google does screen apps submitted to the Play store to filter out malware, but the process is still mostly automated and very quick -- too quick to detect Android malware before it's published, as we've seen. Installing F-Droid isn't a silver bullet, but it's the first step in protecting yourself from malware.
Businesses

To Combat Shortage, Nvidia Asks Retailers To Limit Graphics Card Orders (pcmag.com) 81

An anonymous reader writes: If you're a PC builder -- or your aging desktop system is in dire need of some modern upgrades -- you've probably wondered why it's impossible to get a graphics card lately. You can thank the outrageous interest in cryptocurrency for all of this. Since graphics cards mine cryptocurrency much faster than CPUs, an eager community of get-rich-quick enthusiasts are scooping up graphics cards as fast as they can get them. While there isn't much major manufacturers AMD and Nvidia can do about the overwhelming demand for GPUs, Nvidia is at least trying to let retailers know that they should be holding their stock for the company's core audience: gamers, not miners. "For NVIDIA, gamers come first. All activities related to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers' needs as usual," reads a translated statement Nvidia's Boris Bohles. Nvidia is suggesting that retailers limit graphics card orders to just two per person, but that's just an idea -- one Nvidia can't actually enforce beyond restricting sales on its website, which it's currently doing. Further reading: It's a terrible time to buy a graphics card.
Facebook

Facebook VP Says Company Won't Use Experts To Fix Fake News Because It is Worried About Criticism (theoutline.com) 99

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: According to Axios reporter Ina Fried, the vice president of global communications, marketing, and public policy (phew!) at Facebook shook off suggestions that the network should use outside media literacy watch dogs as opposed to outsourcing its "fake news" problem to a "statistically representative" group of its own users. While speaking at the tech conference DLD (Digital Life Design) in Munich, he revealed that the real motivation behind the company's decision was one based almost entirely on optics. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as the company has been totally ignorant and outrageously slow in accepting responsibility for what has been a disaster for its users. While Twitter is turning to media literacy groups such as Common Sense Media and the National Association for Media Literacy for solutions to its own troll and fake news epidemic, Facebook continues to cower behind a broken concept that the company is a neutral platform where all of its participants are equally weighted.
The Media

LWN.Net Celebrates Its 20th Birthday (lwn.net) 15

Free software/Linux news site LWN.net just celebrated its 20th birthday, with publisher Jonathan Corbet calling the last two decades "an amazing journey." LWN published the first edition of their weekly newsletter on January 22, 1998, and Corbet (who also contributes to the Linux kernel) writes today that "It has been quite a ride. We in the free-software community set out to change the world, and we succeeded beyond our wildest expectations."

Here's how he described their second edition the next week... We were arguably helped by the lead news in that edition: Netscape's decision to open-source its "Communicator" web browser. That quickly brought the world's attention to open-source software, though that term would not be invented for a few months yet, and to Linux in particular. LWN was a shadow of what it is now, but it was evidently good enough to ride on that wave and establish itself as a part of the Linux community.
Corbet reviews the highlights. ("Companies discovered our little hobbyist system and invested billions into it, massively accelerating development at all levels of the system...") But he also adds that "Through all of this, we also got to learn some lessons about successfully running a community information source on the net." For the last 16 years the site has supported itself with $7.00-a-month subscriptions, offering early access to their Weekly Edition plus subscriber-only mailing lists, "allowing our content to quickly become part of the community record."

Plus, through events around the world, "we have met -- and become friends with -- many of our readers and many people in the community as a whole. This community is an amazing group of people; it has been a honor and a joy to be a part of it..."

"The free-software community's work is not done, and neither is ours. "
Intel

Linus Torvalds Calls Intel Patches 'Complete and Utter Garbage' (lkml.org) 316

An anonymous reader writes: On the Linux Kernel Mailing List, Linus Torvalds ended up responding to a long-time kernel developer (and former Intel engineer) who'd been describing a new microcode feature addressing Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation "where a future CPU will advertise 'I am able to be not broken' and then you have to set the IBRS bit once at boot time to *ask* it not to be broken."

Linus calls it "very much part of the whole 'this is complete garbage' issue. The whole IBRS_ALL feature to me very clearly says 'Intel is not serious about this, we'll have a ugly hack that will be so expensive that we don't want to enable it by default, because that would look bad in benchmarks'. So instead they try to push the garbage down to us. And they are doing it entirely wrong, even from a technical standpoint. I'm sure there is some lawyer there who says 'we'll have to go through motions to protect against a lawsuit'. But legal reasons do not make for good technology, or good patches that I should apply."

Later Linus says forcefully that these "complete and utter garbage" patches are being pushed by someone "for unclear reasons" -- and adds another criticism. The whole point of having cpuid and flags from the microarchitecture is that we can use those to make decisions. But since we already know that the IBRS overhead is huge on existing hardware, all those hardware capability bits are just complete and utter garbage. Nobody sane will use them, since the cost is too damn high. So you end up having to look at "which CPU stepping is this" anyway. I think we need something better than this garbage.
Bitcoin

More Wall Street Pundits Caution Against Investing In Bitcoins (cnbc.com) 140

Peter Boockvar is the Chief Investment Officer of Bleakley Financial Group, a $3.5B wealth management firm -- and he predicts "an epic crash will hit the cryptocurrency market," according to CNBC. "He isn't sure if it'll come to a grinding halt or be a slow and steady drop -- but he says it's coming." "When something goes parabolic like this has, it typically ends up to where that parabola began," he said on CNBC's "Futures Now." Boockvar, a CNBC contributor, contends bitcoin is in danger of dropping 90 percent from current levels. He calls it a classic bubble. "I wouldn't be surprised if over the next year it's down to $1,000 to $3,000," he added. That's where bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency player, was trading less than 12 months ago. Friday afternoon it was trading above $11,000.
Meanwhile, today the International Business Times chronicled the predictions of tech billionaire Mark Cuban. In June of last year as bitcoin was climbing toward the $3,000 threshold, Cuban cautioned potential investors about jumping in on the bandwagon... "[C]rypto is like gold. More religion than asset. Except of course gold makes nice jewelry." He told his followers at the time that he wasn't questioning the value of Bitcoin but was questioning the "valuation" and said , "I think it's in a bubble. I just don't know when or how much it corrects." Cuban suggested that when everyone is "bragging about how easy they are making [money]," that indicates there is a bubble happening...

Still, the Dallas Mavericks owner was open to the idea of using cryptocurrencies as a volatile investment vehicle. "If you're a true adventurer and you really want to throw the Hail Mary, you might take 10 percent and put it in Bitcoin or Ethereum," he said. Cuban also cautioned, "If you do that, you've got to pretend you've already lost your money"... Showing just have far Cuban has come on bitcoin and cryptocurrency, he announced earlier this week that his Dallas Mavericks will accept bitcoin and Ethereum as a method to pay for tickets starting next season. Even if the tech investor doesn't fully believe in cryptocurrency, he's clearly willing to try to profit off it...

Science

Will We One Day Use Tractor Beams In Manufacturing? (cnet.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Engineers from the University of Bristol have been able to trap (essentially levitate) objects using an acoustic tractor beam that is larger than the wavelengths of sound used by the device... [A]pplications could include touchless control of drug capsules or micro-surgical implements inside the human body using sonic tractor beams. It could also become possible to move and manipulate fragile items in a whole new way. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them," said Bristol's Bruce Drinkwater, who oversaw the work.
Futurism.com adds that other researchers are also working on tractor beams in manufacturing, including one at the University of Glasgow. "The group demonstrated the process by assembling a pattern of solder beads using an optoelectronic trap, taking the liquid away, then applying heat to fuse the beads together and forge electrical connections," they report, adding "It should be possible to manipulate as many as 10,000 beads at the same time."
United Kingdom

Facebook Reopens Probe Into Russian Involvement in Brexit (techcrunch.com) 249

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook has said it will conduct a wider investigation into whether there was Russian meddling on its platform relating to the 2016 Brexit referendum vote in the UK. Wednesday its UK policy director Simon Milner wrote to a parliamentary committee that's been conducting a wide-ranging enquiry into fake news -- and whose chair has been witheringly critical of Facebook and Twitter for failing to co-operate with requests for information and assistance on the topic of Brexit and Russia -- saying it will widen its investigation, per the committee's request. Though he gave no firm deadline for delivering a fresh report -- beyond estimating "a number of weeks".

It's not clear whether Twitter will also bow to pressure to conduct a more thorough investigation of Brexit-related disinformation. At the time of writing the company had not responded to our questions either. At the end of last year committee chair Damian Collins warned both companies they could face sanctions for failing to co-operate with the committee's enquiry -- slamming Twitter's investigations to date as "completely inadequate", and expressing disbelief that both companies had essentially ignored the committee's requests... Independent academic studies have suggested there was in fact significant tweet-based activity generated around Brexit by Russian bots."

Theresa May has said Russia's attempts to "sow discord" in the West could not go unchallenged, and warned Vladimir Putin, "We know what you are up to."

Facebook's response complained that a new investigation "requires detailed analysis of historic data by our security experts, who are also engaged in preventing live threats to our service."
Graphics

Can A New Open Photo File Format Replace JPEGs? (cnet.com) 214

Got lossless compression? An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Google, Mozilla and others in a group called the Alliance for Open Media are working on a rival photo technology. In testing so far, the images are 15 percent smaller than Apple's HEIC photo format, said Tim Terriberry, a Mozilla principal research engineer working on the project. But smaller sizes are just the beginning... it's got a strong list of allies, an affinity for web publishing and modern features that could make it the best contender yet for overcoming JPEG's 1990s-era shortcomings... JPEG isn't just limited by needlessly large file sizes. It's also weak when it comes to supporting a wider range of bright and dark tones, a broader spectrum of colors, and graphic elements like text and logos...

The HEIC's new rival is from the Alliance for Open Media, a group whose top priority is a video compression technology called AV1 that's free of patent licensing requirements. It's got heavy hitters on board, including top browser makers Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and the most recent new member, Apple -- though Apple's plans haven't been made public. And it's got major streaming-video companies, too: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Facebook, videoconferencing powerhouse Intel and Google's YouTube. And with the support of chip designers Intel, Nvidia and Arm, AV1 should get the hardware acceleration that's crucial to making video easy on our laptop and phone batteries.

To use Apple's HEIC, "makers of software, processors and phones must jump through a lot of hoops to license patents," which CNET predicts "means HEIC will have trouble succeeding on the web: patent barriers are antithetical to the web's open nature."
Crime

Church Elder/'Jeopardy' Champion Charged With Computer Crimes (mlive.com) 87

Stephanie Jass, a record-setting, seven-time winner on Jeopardy, has been charged with two felonies for accessing the email accounts of two executives at the college where she worked as an assistant professor. An anonymous reader quotes MLive: Jass was able to access the accounts because of an April 24 issue with the college email system, hosted by Google. Frank Hribar, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said there was network outage caused by loss of power. On April 25, users received a text message with a generic, standard passcode: "Please attempt to login to Gmail using this password. You should be prompted to change password after login..." Not everyone, however, was prompted to do so. Some did make the change using a tutorial. Some received an error and were unable to create a new password, the timeline states. Others did not alter the password at all. The method "worked just fine, had there not been manipulation of the system," said Hribar...

Jass, 47, of Tecumseh was charged in December with unauthorized access to a computer, program or network, and using a computer to commit a crime, both felonies... On May 5, the college deactivated Jass' email account and access to all other college software. The locks to her office door were changed and her desktop computer was confiscated, according to the timeline.

The police report "indicates Jass accessed emails while using an internet network at First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, where she served as an elder."
Microsoft

Microsoft Fights Search Warrants for Overseas Emails in the Supreme Court (microsoft.com) 58

Microsoft's Chief Legal Officer writes about "the landmark Microsoft case that will decide whether the U.S. government can use a search warrant to force a company to seize a customer's private emails stored in Ireland and import them to the United States." On Thursday, 289 different groups and individuals from 37 countries signed 23 different legal briefs supporting Microsoft's position that Congress never gave law enforcement the power to ignore treaties and breach Ireland's sovereignty in this way. How could it? The government relies on a law that was enacted in 1986, before anyone conceived of cloud computing... When the U.S. government requires a tech company to execute a warrant for emails stored overseas, the provider must search a foreign datacenter and make a copy abroad, and then import that copy to the United States. This creates a complex issue with huge international consequences. It shouldn't be resolved by taking the law to a place it was never intended to go...

The U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to seize foreign customers' emails from other countries ignores borders, treaties and international law, as well as the laws those countries have in place to protect the privacy of their own citizens... It's also a path that will lead to the doorsteps of American homes by putting the privacy of U.S. citizens' emails at risk. If the U.S. government obtains the power to search and seize foreign citizens' private communications physically stored in other countries, it will invite other governments to do the same thing. If we ignore other countries' laws, how can we demand that they respect our laws?

Amicus briefs supporting Microsoft have been filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Ireland, France, and the European Commission and European privacy regulators. Microsoft even notes that on this issue, "Fox News agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union."
Businesses

Amazon Opens 'Surveillance-Powered, No-Checkout Convenience Store' (geekwire.com) 222

An anonymous reader quotes GeekWire: The first Amazon Go grocery and convenience store will open to the public Monday in Seattle -- letting any person with an Amazon account, the Amazon Go app and a willingness to give up more of their personal privacy than usual simply grab anything they want and walk out, without going through a checkout line... After shoppers check in by scanning their unique QR code, overhead cameras work with weight sensors in the shelves to precisely track which items they pick up and take with them. When they leave, they just leave. Amazon Go's systems automatically debit their accounts for the items they take, sending the receipt to the app. In my first test of Amazon Go this past week, my elapsed time in the store was exactly 23 seconds -- from scanning the QR code at the entrance to exiting with my chosen item...

The company says the tracking is precise enough to distinguish between multiple people standing side-by-side at a shelf, detecting which one picked up a yogurt or cupcake, for example, and which one was merely browsing. The system also knows when people pick up items and put them back, ensuring that Amazon doesn't dock anyone's account for milk or chips when they simply wanted to read the label. The idea is to "push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning" to create an "effortless experience for customers," said Dilip Kumar, Amazon Go vice president of technology, after taking GeekWire through the store this past week... Apart from the kitchen staff preparing fresh food at the back, we saw only two workers in the 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store during our visit: one at the beer and wine section to check IDs, and another just inside the entrance to greet customers.

TechCrunch calls it "Amazon's surveillance-powered no-checkout convenience store," adding "the system is made up of dozens and dozens of camera units mounted to the ceiling, covering and recovering every square inch of the store from multiple angles."

The Seattle Times reports that the store "was also criticized by grocery-store workers' unions, which feared an effort to automate the work done by cashiers, the second-most-common job in the U.S."
Programming

Donald Knuth Turns 80, Seeks Problem-Solvers For TAOCP (stanford.edu) 60

An anonymous reader writes: When 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming, he had no idea that he'd still be working on it 56 years later. This month he also celebrated his 80th birthday in Sweden with the world premier of Knuth's Fantasia Apocalyptica, a multimedia work for pipe organ and video based on the bible's Book of Revelations, which Knuth describes as "50 years in the making."

But Knuth also points to the recent publication of "one of the most important sections of The Art of Computer Programming" in preliminary paperback form: Volume 4, Fascicle 6: Satisfiability. ("Given a Boolean function, can its variables be set to at least one pattern of 0s and 1 that will make the function true?")

Here's an excerpt from its back cover: Revolutionary methods for solving such problems emerged at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and they've led to game-changing applications in industry. These so-called "SAT solvers" can now routinely find solutions to practical problems that involve millions of variables and were thought until very recently to be hopelessly difficult.
"in several noteworthy cases, nobody has yet pointed out any errors..." Knuth writes on his site, adding "I fear that the most probable hypothesis is that nobody has been sufficiently motivated to check these things out carefully as yet." He's uncomfortable printing a hardcover edition that hasn't been fully vetted, and "I would like to enter here a plea for some readers to tell me explicitly, 'Dear Don, I have read exercise N and its answer very carefully, and I believe that it is 100% correct,'" where N is one of the exercises listed on his web site.

Elsewhere he writes that two "pre-fascicles" -- 5a and 5B -- are also available for alpha-testing. "I've put them online primarily so that experts in the field can check the contents before I inflict them on a wider audience. But if you want to help debug them, please go right ahead."

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