NASA

US-Born NASA Scientist Detained At The Border Until He Unlocked His Phone (theverge.com) 627

Sidd Bikkannavar works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After racing solar-powered cars in Chile, he had trouble returning to America. mspohr quote The Verge: Bikkannavar says he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and pressured to give the Customs and Border Protection agents his phone and access PIN. Since the phone was issued by NASA, it may have contained sensitive material that wasn't supposed to be shared. Bikkannavar's phone was returned to him after it was searched by CBP, but he doesn't know exactly what information officials might have taken from the device...

The officer also presented Bikkannavar with a document titled "Inspection of Electronic Devices" and explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. "I was cautiously telling him I wasn't allowed to give it out, because I didn't want to seem like I was not cooperating," says Bikkannavar. "I told him I'm not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it."

While border agents have the right to search devices, The Verge reports that travelers aren't legally required to unlock their phones, "although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not." They also report that Bikkannavar "was not allowed to leave until he gave CBP his PIN," adding that the cybersecurity team at JPL "was not happy about the breach."
Government

Face Recognition + Mandatory Police Body Cameras = Mass Surveillance? (siliconvalley.com) 110

Facial recognition software is already in use, and it has privacy advocates worried. An anonymous reader quotes the Bay Area Newsgroup. Southern California-based FaceFirst sells its facial recognition technology to retail stores, which use it to identify shoplifters who have been banned from the store, and alert management if they return. Corporate offices and banks also use the software to recognize people who are wanted by police... Several local law enforcement agencies have expressed interest in the technology, but so far none have had the budget for it. FaceFirst sells software police officers can install on their smartphones and use to identify people in the field from up to 12 feet away.

Some privacy experts worry facial recognition technology will show up next in police body cameras, with potentially dangerous consequences... The problem, say privacy advocates, is that all kinds of people come into contact with police, including many who are never suspected of any crimes. So lots of innocent people could be caught up in a police database fed by face-recognizing body cameras. The body cameras could turn into a "massive mobile surveillance network," said Jeramie Scott, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

One-third of America's police departments use body cameras. (And just in San Jose, there's already 450 neighborhood cameras that have also agreed to share their footage for police investigations.) The new technologies concern the ACLU's policy director for technology and civil liberties. "You have very powerful systems being purchased, most often in secret, with little-to-no public debate and no process in place to make sure that there are policies in place to safeguard community members."
Cellphones

Shamed In Super Bowl Ads, Verizon Introduces Unlimited Data Plans (theverge.com) 172

A surprise announcement Sunday revealed that tomorrow Verizon will begin offering introductory plans with unlimited data.*

* Customers "will get full LTE speeds until they reach 22GB of usage," reports The Verge, "after which they'll be subject to reduced data speeds and de-prioritization."

An anonymous reader writes: Other carriers have similar limits. "For Sprint it's 23GB. T-Mobile has a slightly higher threshold of 26GB... AT&T matches Verizon at 22GB," reports The Verge. Verizon says their cap is "to ensure a quality experience for all customers... While we don't expect to do that very often, network management is a crucial tool that benefits all Verizon customers." The $80-a-month plan also includes hotspot tethering -- up to 10 gigabytes -- and "includes 'HD' video as opposed to the 480p/DVD-quality video that T-Mobile One customers get by default."

In a Sunday YouTube video, the head of Verizon's wireless effort says customer interviews found "Some of the heavier users of data -- the power users -- had data anxiety." But it's still a surprising move. Engadget reports that in the past Verizon "frequently tried its hardest to discourage unlimited data users," but today is "facing stiff competition from T-Mobile, which engineered a dramatic comeback in recent years and upped the ante by making unlimited data standard through the One plan."

Verizon's pricing was also targeted heavily last week in a barrage of Super Bowl ads by both Sprint and T-Mobile just last Sunday. T-Mobile showed a masochistic woman calling Verizon just to enjoying hearing about the overages, taxes and fees she incurred by exceeding her data limit, while Sprint showed a man who was trying to escape his Verizon contract by faking his own death.
Space

Gravity-Detecting LIGO Also Found To Be Creating Gravity Waves (sciencemag.org) 82

LIGO is a large-scale physics experiment to detect "ripples in spacetime," as well as gravity waves from outer space. But it turns out that it's also creating gravity waves, according to a team of physicists led by Belinda Pang, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. sciencehabit quotes Science magazine: Although these waves are far too feeble to detect directly, the researchers say, the radiation in principle could be used to try to detect weird quantum mechanical effects among large objects... Of course, LIGO doesn't generate large gravitational waves -- you could probably make bigger ones yourself by whirling bowling balls around -- but it does so with optimal efficiency [and] the waves could still be used to probe quantum effects among macroscopic objects, Pang says.

Quantum mechanics says that a vanishingly small object such as an electron can literally be in two places in once. Many physicists suspect that it might just be possible to coax a macroscopic object, such as one of LIGO's mirrors, into a similar state of quantum motion. That delicate state wouldn't last long, as interactions with the outside world would make it "decohere" and put it in one place or another. However, one could imagine measuring the rate at which such a state decoheres to see whether it matches the rate expected from the radiation of gravitational waves, Pang says.

"It's unbelievably difficult," Pang says. "But if you want to do it, what we're saying is that LIGO is the best place to do it."
Beer

How Beer Brewed 5,000 Years Ago In China Tastes Today (thestreet.com) 109

schwit1 quotes The South China Morning Post: Stanford University students have recreated a Chinese beer using a recipe that dates back 5,000 years. The beer "looked like porridge and tasted sweeter and fruitier than the clear, bitter beers of today," said Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology, was quoted by the university as saying. Last spring, Liu and her team of researchers were carrying out excavation work at the Mijiaya site in Shaanxi province and found two pits containing remnants of pottery used to make beer, including funnels, pots and amphorae. The pits dated to between 3400BC and 2900BC, in the late Yangshao era. They found a yellowish residue on the remains of the items, including traces of yam, lily root and barley...Liu taught her students to recreate the recipe as part of her archaeology course.
One student following a second ancient beer recipe created a beverage that "smelled like funky cheese."
Earth

223 Stranded Whales Rescue Themselves (npr.org) 74

More than 650 whales beached themselves in New Zealand, and more than 350 of them died. But now an anonymous reader shares NPR's report about a surprising result for the second group of whales. When volunteer rescuers left the beach for the night Saturday, hundreds of survivors from the second stranding remained ashore. Then something curious happened: When the people returned Sunday morning, almost all the surviving whales were gone. All but 17 had left the beach and returned to the waters of Golden Bay overnight.

"We had 240 whales strand yesterday in the afternoon and we were fearful we were going to end up with 240 dead whales this morning," Herb Christophers, a spokesman for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, told Reuters. "But they self-rescued, in other words the tide came in and they were able to float off and swim out to sea."

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Three Privacy Groups Challenge The FBI's Malware-Obtained Evidence (eff.org) 118

In 2015 the FBI took over a Tor-accessible child pornography site to infect its users with malware so they could be identified and prosecuted. But now one suspect is challenging that evidence in court, with three different privacy groups filing briefs in his support. An anonymous reader writes. One EFF attorney argues it's a classic case of an unreasonable search, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. "If the FBI tried to get a single warrant to search 8,000 houses, such a request would unquestionably be denied." But there's another problem, since the FBI infected users in 120 different countries. "According to Privacy International, the case also raises important questions: What if a foreign country had carried out a similar hacking operation that affected U.S. citizens?" writes Computerworld. "Would the U.S. welcome this...? The U.S. was overstepping its bounds by conducting an investigation outside its borders without the consent of affected countries, the group said."
The FBI's evidence is also being challenged by the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the EFF plans to file two more challenges in March, warning that otherwise "the precedent is likely to impact the digital privacy rights of all Internet users for years to come... Courts need to send a very clear message that vague search warrants that lack the required specifics about who and what is to be searched won't be upheld."
Earth

Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones? (economist.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch "pollinator-bot" and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone's creator "has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else," reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone "show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would -- though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination." While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.

The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking "Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?" One said "There is no substitute for bees." Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn't scale without becoming too expensive. "I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint."

Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."
Media

Netflix Geoblocking Loosened Under New EU Law (thestack.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: "The European Parliament is now finalizing legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media -- such as video streaming, games and music -- while visiting other EU countries," reports The Stack. Under the new rules, companies will not be able to arbitrarily block subscribers from accessing the content catalog of their home countries while visiting other parts of the European Union, with country of origin to be established by various possible methods besides IP address, including payment details, public tax information and 'checks on electronic identification'. The issue was brought to a head last year when Netflix began blocking the known IPs of VPN providers, often used by subscribers to access the catalogs of their home countries while travelling.
Space

Space Junk-Fighting Cable Fails To Deploy (newscientist.com) 55

New Scientist reports: It's a rubbish start for the world's first space clean-up experiment. A cable designed to drag space junk out of orbit has failed to deploy from a Japanese spacecraft... A 700-metre-long metal cable was fitted to an unmanned spacecraft called Kounotori 6, which was on its way back to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. The cable was meant to unfurl from the spacecraft, at which point an electric current would pass along its length. The idea was that the current would interact with the Earth's magnetic field, creating a drag that pulled the spacecraft out of orbit. The spacecraft would then tumble into our atmosphere and become incinerated... However, Kounotori 6 was unable to release the cable to test its junk-removing potential, and JAXA could not fix the glitch before the spacecraft returned to Earth's atmosphere this morning... "Releasing a cable may seem simple, but nothing in space is simple," says Sean Tuttle at the University of New South Wales in Australia... The test's failure should be seen as a setback rather than a nail in the coffin for junk-removing cables, Tuttle says.
rickyslashdot writes: Because of the simplicity of this system, it is bound to be tested again -- hopefully sooner than later... This process is inherently safer than using rocket engines (to be attached to the junk), and is much less of a 'mass-to-orbit' cost, since it only requires a grappling system, and a spool of wire/cable. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up / re-try in the near future for this orbital debris clean-up process.
Displays

Magic Leap CEO Defends His AR Company After Leaked Photo (mashable.com) 62

Saturday Business Insider claimed that augmented reality company Magic Leap was "scrambling to finish a working prototype before an important board meeting next week," publishing a photo described by their source as an early January prototype. An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: The image depicts a man with a kit on his back that looks as if it's in the early stages of development, but [CEO Rony] Abovitz's tweet suggested it was not intended as consumer technology. "The photo you are all excited about is NOT what you think it is," he wrote. "The photo shows an @magicleap R&D test rig where we collect room/space data for our machine vision/machine learning work. We do this in order to understand lighting, texture, various surfaces." As Mashable noted earlier, the leaked photo has done little to assuage fears the company's technology has been overhyped... A December report in The Information raised questions about whether Magic Leap was ready for primetime amid concerns that much of its work could not be commercialised or miniaturised. Two former employees also reportedly told the outlet a promotional video showing the technology in action was in fact created by the special effects company, Weta Workshop.
Magic Leap raised $1.39 billion from investors (including Google), and Abovitz's last tweet Saturday reassured fans that "We will not let you down." Mashable even suggested that "this might just be a bit of clever marketing spin by Magic Leap to greatly lower expectations before unveiling a polished product in the coming months... The worst case scenario is that this does represent the latest version of the company's prototype meant for consumers, in which case there's very little chance we will see a Magic Leap device available to consumers any time in 2017."
Government

CS Professor Argues Silicon Valley Is Exploiting Both H-1B Visas And Workers (huffingtonpost.com) 318

schwit1 quotes Norm Matloff, a CS professor at the University of California at Davis, on H-1B visa programs: The Trump administration has drafted a new executive order that could actually mean higher wages for both foreign workers and Americans working in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley companies, of course, will not be happy if it goes into effect... Their lobbyists claim there is a "talent shortage" among Americans and thus that the industry needs more of such work visas. This is patently false. The truth is that they want an expansion of the H-1B work visa program because they want to hire cheap, immobile labor -- i.e., foreign workers.

To see how this works, note that most Silicon Valley firms sponsor their H-1B workers, who hold a temporary visa, for U.S. permanent residency (green card) under the employment-based program in immigration law. EB sponsorship renders the workers de facto indentured servants; though they have the right to move to another employer, they do not dare do so, as it would mean starting the lengthy green card process all over again.

Computerworld also argues this year's annual H-1B visa lottery "may be different, because of President Donald Trump," reporting that the lottery has historically favored the largest firms heavily. "In the 2015 fiscal year, for instance, the top 10 firms received 38% of all the H-1B visas in computer occupations alone. All these firms, except for Amazon and to a partial extent IBM, are outsourcers."
Security

Trend Micro's Own Cybersecurity Blog Gets Hacked (silicon.co.uk) 17

Mickeycaskill quotes Silicon: Just to illustrate that you can never be too careful, cybersecurity specialist Trend Micro has confirmed that one of the blogs it uses to communicate with customers was itself the victim of a content spoofing attack. The culprits exploited a vulnerability in WordPress to inject fake content onto the blog before it was removed by Trend Micro and the bug fixed... "Unfortunately there are many different URLs attackers can use to carry out the same attack, so a couple of fake 'articles' ended up posted on CounterMeasures," head of security research Rik Ferguson told Silicon. "We have responded and shut down the vulnerability completely to resolve the issue."
The chairman of Trend Micro claimed in 2011 that open source software was inherently less secure than closed source -- but instead of blaming Wordpress, Ferguson "said it goes to show how breaches are an unfortunate fact of life and that companies should be judged on how they respond... 'Of course technology and best practice can mitigate the vast majority of intrusion attempts, but when one is successful, even one as low-level as this, you are more defined by how you respond than you are by the fact that it happened.'"
EU

Finland's Universal Basic Income Called 'Useless' By Trade Union Economist (bloomberg.com) 723

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Finland's basic income experiment is unworkable, uneconomical and ultimately useless. Plus, it will only encourage some people to work less. That's not the view of a hard core Thatcherite, but of the country's biggest trade union. The labor group says the results of the two-year pilot program will fail to sway its opposition to a welfare-policy idea that's gaining traction among those looking for an alternative in the post-industrial age. "We think it takes social policy in the wrong direction," said Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which has nearly one million members.

Since January, a group of unemployed Finns aged between 25 and 58 have been receiving a stipend of 560 euros ($600) per month. The amount isn't means-tested and is paid regardless of whether the recipient finds a job, starts a business or returns to school... Advocates say it eliminates poverty traps and redistributes income while empowering the individual and reducing paperwork... While limited in scope (it's conditional on the beneficiary having received some form of unemployment support in November 2016) and size (it's based on a randomly-selected sample of 2,000 jobless people), the Finnish trial may help answer questions like: "Does it work"? "Is it worth it"? And the most fundamental of all: "Does it incite laboriousness or laziness...?"

The trade union argues this UBI program would cost 5% of Finland's entire gross domestic product, making it "impossibly expensive."

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