OS X

Apple Releases Meltdown and Spectre Fixes For Older Versions of MacOS (neowin.net) 2

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Neowin: Apple released its round of bug fix/security updates -- including iOS 11.2.5, macOS 10.13.3 High Sierra, watchOS 4.2.2, and tvOS 11.2.5 -- today. In doing so, it also offered some security updates for Macs running older versions of its OS, including OS X 10.11 El Capitan and macOS 10.12 Sierra. The security updates mainly focus on the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, which were fixed for High Sierra users a couple of weeks ago. OS X 10.11.6 El Capitan got the smallest update, including fixes for IOHIDFamily, Kernel, QuartzCore, and Wi-Fi. As for the Sierra update, it's available for machines that are running macOS 10.12.6. It includes the above fixes, but it also includes improvements for Audio, LinkPresentation, Security, and there's an additional Kernel fix.
Transportation

Tesla Model S Plows Into a Fire Truck While Using Autopilot (cnbc.com) 64

On Monday, a Tesla Model S plowed into the back of a fire truck on a freeway near Culver City, California. The driver is claiming the car was on Tesla's Autopilot driver assistance system. As a result, the National Traffic Safety Board will be investigating both driver and vehicle factors. CNBC reports: The Culver City Firefighters Association Local 1927 union chapter tweeted out a picture of the crash on Monday afternoon. The firetruck was on the freeway helping after a motorcycle accident, the union said in an Instagram post. The post said there were no injuries. The outcome could have been much worse if firefighters had been standing at the back of the truck, Battalion Chief Ken Powell told the San Jose Mercury News. "Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver," Tesla said in a statement sent to CNBC.
Hardware

DJI's New Mavic Air Drone Is a Beefed-Up Spark With 4K Video Support (arstechnica.com) 1

Earlier today, DJI announced the latest entry in its popular line of consumer drones: the Mavic Air. The drone starts at $799, which is $400 more than the Spark's current going rate and $200 below the cost of a new Mavic Pro. "The entry-level package does include a dedicated controller, though, albeit one without an integrated display," reports Ars Technica. "The Mavic Air is available for pre-order today, and DJI says the device will start shipping on January 28." From the report: At first blush, the Mavic Air appears to find a middle ground between DJI's beginner-friendly Spark drone and its pricier but more technically capable Mavic Pro. Like both of those devices, the Mavic Air is small -- at 168x184x64mm, it's a bit larger than the Spark but smaller than the Mavic Pro. Like the latter, its arms can be folded inward, which should make it relatively easy to pack and transport. Its design doesn't stray too far from the past, either, with the rounded, swooping lines of its chassis punctuated by stubby, Spark-like propeller arms. The whole thing weighs 430 grams, which is much lighter than the Mavic Pro's 734g and a bit heavier than the Spark's 300g chassis. DJI says it can reach up to 42.5 miles per hour in its "sport" mode, which is faster than both the Spark (30mph) and Mavic Pro (40mph). It has a flight range of 2.5 miles with the included controller -- provided you keep it in your line of sight -- which is closer to the Spark than the Pro. With a smartphone, that range drops to 262 feet, the same as the Spark. The drone carries a 12-megapixel camera with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a 24mm F2.8 lens. As with all DJI drones, it comes integrated into the device. Notably, like the Mavic Pro, it's capable of capturing video in 4K up to 30 frames per second, with 1080p video up to 60fps. It can also take DNG photos.
The Almighty Buck

Coinbase Is Making $2.7 Million a Day (bitcoin.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bitcoin News: In information released to shareholders this week, Coinbase revealed that it recorded turnover of $1 billion last year, which works out at an astonishing $2.74 million a day or $2,000 a minute. As America's largest bitcoin broker, Coinbase claims the lion's share of the money that's pouring into the crypto space at a dizzying rate. 2017 was a bumper year for all crypto exchanges, which reported record numbers across the board: new signups, new staff hired, new trading pairs, and new revenue. Those revenue streams have turned into a torrent that has caused Coinbase' coffers to swell. Recode reports that the company's revenue exceeded $1 billion last year, most of it derived from the trading fees it levies. These vary from between 0.25% and 1%. and quickly add up: in the past 24 hours, 36,000 BTC were traded on Coinbase, accounting for more than 15% of the total market. Coinbase isn't the world's largest exchange (and is technically a broker rather than a conventional exchange -- that duty falls to its GDAX subsidiary) but it's the best known and carries great weight in the cryptocurrency industry.
Robotics

French Train Engineering Giant Alstom Testing Automated Freight Train (bbc.com) 30

French train engineering giant Alstom is to test automated freight trains in the Netherlands this year. From a report: The automated train prototype can travel for about 100km (60 miles) without driver intervention. Automation will free the train driver to focus on supervising the train's progress. The test's purpose is to provide a live demonstration that the train and the signal system can communicate effectively to drive the train. Alstom signed an agreement with the the Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail and Rotterdam Rail Feeding (RRF) to carry out the tests along the Betuweroute -- a 150km double track freight railway line connecting Rotterdam to Germany.
China

Ecuador is Fighting Crime Using Chinese Surveillance Technology (scmp.com) 22

Ecuador has introduced a security system using monitoring technology from China, including facial recognition, as it tries to bring down its crime rate and improve emergency management, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. From a report: A network of cameras has been installed across the South American nation's 24 provinces -- keeping watch on its population of 16.4 million people -- using a system known as the ECU911 Integrated Security Service, Xinhua reported. Used by the country's police, armed forces and fire brigade, it went into operation in November 2016 and has an emergency response and monitoring system.
Space

In the Search for Alien Life, 'Everyone Is an Astrobiologist' (scientificamerican.com) 29

Mary Voytek, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, likes to tell other researchers that "everyone is an astrobiologist; they just don't know it yet." From a report: What she means is that answering the question currently at the heart of astrobiology -- Does life exist beyond Earth? -- requires input from an incredibly wide range of disciplines, including astrophysics, geology, exoplanet science, planetary science, chemistry and various subfields of biology.

On the plus side, that means astrobiologists have a lot of resources to draw on. But it also means that people like Voytek have to deal with a flood of relevant information coming in from all of those scientific fields and figure out how to get scientists from those disciplines to work together. Voytek and other NASA representatives discussed how they are dealing with that information influx, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field, at the Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe meeting, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, here at the University of California, Irvine this week.

Science

Engineers Design Artificial Synapse For 'Brain-on-a-chip' Hardware (mit.edu) 80

Researchers in the emerging field of "neuromorphic computing" have attempted to design computer chips that work like the human brain. From a report: Instead of carrying out computations based on binary, on/off signaling, like digital chips do today, the elements of a "brain on a chip" would work in an analog fashion, exchanging a gradient of signals, or "weights," much like neurons that activate in various ways depending on the type and number of ions that flow across a synapse. In this way, small neuromorphic chips could, like the brain, efficiently process millions of streams of parallel computations that are currently only possible with large banks of supercomputers. But one significant hangup on the way to such portable artificial intelligence has been the neural synapse, which has been particularly tricky to reproduce in hardware.

Now engineers at MIT have designed an artificial synapse in such a way that they can precisely control the strength of an electric current flowing across it, similar to the way ions flow between neurons. The team has built a small chip with artificial synapses, made from silicon germanium. In simulations, the researchers found that the chip and its synapses could be used to recognize samples of handwriting, with 95 percent accuracy. The design, published today in the journal Nature Materials, is a major step toward building portable, low-power neuromorphic chips for use in pattern recognition and other learning tasks.

United States

The Rise Of The Contract Workforce (npr.org) 156

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new NPR/Marist poll finds that 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. Workers across all industries and at all professional levels will be touched by the movement toward independent work -- one without the constraints, or benefits, of full-time employment. Policymakers are just starting to talk about the implications.

[...] It's not just business driving the trend. Surveys show a large majority of freelancers are free agents by choice. John Vensel is a contract attorney at Orrick who grew up a few miles from Wheeling, on the other side of the Pennsylvania state line. In his 20s, he was a freelance paralegal by day and a gig musician by night. "I actually wanted to be a rock star," he says. But these days there are no edgy vestiges of a former rocker, only a 47-year-old family man cooing over cellphone photos of his children, Grace and Gabe. In the two decades in between, Vensel worked full-time corporate jobs. But he was laid off in 2010, on the eve of his graduation from his night-school law program. He graduated with huge piles of debt, into one of the worst job markets. For a time, Vensel commuted three hours round-trip to a full-time job in Pittsburgh. But more recently, he quit and took up contracting to stay near home in Wheeling.

Medicine

The Second Coming of Ultrasound (wired.com) 43

Ultrasound, which works on the principle of piezoelectricity, is finding a second lease of life in medicine, Wired outlines. Applying voltage to a piezoelectric crystal makes it vibrate, sending out a sound wave. When the echo that bounces back is converted into electrical signals, you get an image of, say, a fetus, or a submarine. But in the last few years, the lo-fi tech has reinvented itself in some weird new ways. From a report: Researchers are fitting people's heads with ultrasound-emitting helmets to treat tremors and Alzheimer's. They're using it to remotely activate cancer-fighting immune cells. Startups are designing swallowable capsules and ultrasonically vibrating enemas to shoot drugs into the bloodstream. One company is even using the shockwaves to heal wounds -- stuff Curie never could have even imagined. So how did this 100-year-old technology learn some new tricks? With the help of modern-day medical imaging, and lots and lots of bubbles.
Businesses

Apple Might Discontinue the MacBook Air (gizmodo.com) 93

An anonymous reader shares a report: Just in time for its tenth anniversary, Apple might finally be killing the MacBook Air, according to a new report from Digitimes. If this is true, it'd be the first axing of a laptop line from Apple since the iBook and Powerbook were axed back in 2006. It would also be about damn time. Apple quietly killed the 11-inch MacBook Air back in 2016, but the larger 13-inch version has lingered on, getting a mild processor refresh last year that still left the laptop using a 5th generation Intel processor. That's three generations behind the processors currently found in the MacBook Air's competition, and it is the primary reason the laptop was excluded from our piece looking at the best laptop to be had for under $1000.
Robotics

The Mystery of the Cars Abandoned in a Robot Car Park (bbc.com) 122

The mystery of why a handful of cars were abandoned in a derelict car park in Edinburgh, Capital of Scotland, may have been solved. From a report on BBC: The $7m Autosafe SkyPark used robots to stack cars and was dubbed the "car park of the future" -- but went into receivership in 2003. After lying empty for more than a decade, the building in Morrison Street is now being demolished. And the work has uncovered eight cars which were left behind when the doors were closed. Images of the abandoned vehicles has sparked a number of theories about why they were never removed. But a former employee has said they could be old vehicles which were bought by the car park's former operators to test out the robot equipment. A spokesperson said: "We can confirm that there are eight cars present at the car park on the Capital Square site, which have been there since the car park closed in 2003. The owners of the cars are unknown and they are now the property of the demolition company who will remove the cars once work begins on the levels on which they are located."
Medicine

Vaping Can Be Addictive and May Lure Teenagers to Smoking, Science Panel Concludes (nytimes.com) 188

A national panel of public health experts concluded in a report released on Tuesday that vaping with e-cigarettes that contain nicotine can be addictive and that teenagers who use the devices may be put at higher risk of switching to traditional smoking. From a report: Whether teenage use of e-cigarettes may lead to conventional smoking has been intensely debated in the United States and elsewhere. While the industry argues that vaping is not a steppingstone to conventional cigarettes or addiction, some antismoking advocates contend that young people become hooked on nicotine, and are enticed to cancer-causing tobacco-based cigarettes over time. The new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the most comprehensive analysis of existing research on e-cigarettes. It concluded the devices are safer than traditional smoking products and that they do help smokers quit, citing conclusive proof that switching can reduce smokers' exposure to deadly tar, numerous dangerous chemicals and other carcinogens.
Security

Tinder's Lack of Encryption Lets Strangers Spy on Your Swipes (wired.com) 43

Tinder's mobile apps still lack the standard encryption necessary to keep your photos, swipes, and matches hidden from snoops, a security firm reports. From Wired: On Tuesday, researchers at Tel Aviv-based app security firm Checkmarx demonstrated that Tinder still lacks basic HTTPS encryption for photos. Just by being on the same Wi-Fi network as any user of Tinder's iOS or Android app, the researchers could see any photo the user did, or even inject their own images into his or her photo stream. And while other data in Tinder's apps are HTTPS-encrypted, Checkmarx found that they still leaked enough information to tell encrypted commands apart, allowing a hacker on the same network to watch every swipe left, swipe right, or match on the target's phone nearly as easily as if they were looking over the target's shoulder. The researchers suggest that lack of protection could enable anything from simple voyeuristic nosiness to blackmail schemes.
Mozilla

Firefox 58 Gets Graphics Speed Boost, Web App Abilities (cnet.com) 153

Mozilla released on Tuesday a new version of its Firefox Quantum browser, boosting its graphics speed and improving a couple of new technologies designed to make the web more powerful. From a report: The browser, version 58, is the first major update since Mozilla's recovery plan hit full stride in November with the debut of Firefox Quantum. Speed is of the essence in Mozilla's recovery plan, and Firefox 58 does better than its predecessor in some graphics tasks by splitting work better across the multiple processor cores that computer chips have these days. The result should be scrolling that's smooth, uninterrupted by the stuttering that in computing circles goes by the disparaging term "jank." [...] Firefox 58 helps with two new web technologies. One, called WebAssembly, provides for dramatically faster web apps. Firefox 58 can get WebAssembly software running faster so you don't have to twiddle your thumbs waiting as long after clicking a link. Another is progressive web apps (PWAs), an initiative that came out of Google to help make the web a better match for the apps we all drop on our phones.

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