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Medicine

Ethicists Advise Caution In Applying CRISPR Gene Editing To Humans (washingtonpost.com) 159

New submitter Baron_Yam quotes a report from Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source): Ethicists have been working overtime to figure out how to handle CRISPR, the revolutionary gene-editing technique that could potentially prevent congenital diseases but could also be used for cosmetic enhancements and lead to permanent, heritable changes in the human species. The latest iteration of this ongoing CRISPR debate is a report published Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. The report, a series of guidelines written by 22 experts from multiple countries and a variety of academic specialties, presents a kind of flashing red light for CRISPR. The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human "germline" if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations. For some ethicists, that represents a slippery slope. At the conclusion of a gene-editing summit in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences in December 2015, scientists said that although some basic research could proceed, it would be irresponsible to use genetically modified germline cells for the purpose of establishing a pregnancy. But the new report takes a slightly more permissive, forward-thinking position, saying that, if and when such interventions are proved safe -- which could be in the near future -- and if numerous criteria are met to ensure that such gene editing is regulated and limited, it could potentially be used to treat rare, serious diseases. "We say proceed with all due caution, but we don't prohibit germline, after considerable discussion and debate," said Richard Hynes, an MIT biologist and one of the leaders of the new study. "We're talking only about fixing diseases."
Government

Bipartisan Bill Seeks Warrants For Police Use of 'Stingray' Cell Trackers (usatoday.com) 113

Tulsa_Time quotes a report from USA Today: A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday requiring police agencies to get a search warrant before they can deploy powerful cellphone surveillance technology known as "stingrays" that sweep up information about the movements of innocent Americans while tracking suspected criminals. "Owning a smartphone or fitness tracker shouldn't give the government a blank check to track your movements," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who introduced the bill with Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and John Conyers, D-Mich. "Law enforcement should be able to use GPS data, but they need to get a warrant. This bill sets out clear rules to make sure our laws keep up with the times." The legislation introduced Wednesday, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, would require a warrant for all domestic law enforcement agencies to track the location and movements of individual Americans through GPS technology without their knowledge. It also aims to combat high-tech stalking by creating criminal penalties for secretly using an electronic device to track someone's movements.
Medicine

Autism Starts Months Before Symptoms Appear, Study Shows (scientificamerican.com) 119

A new study published this week in the journal Nature suggests there is evidence of autism in the brain well before symptoms start to appear. Typically, the earliest that children are diagnosed with the disorder is at the age of two, although often times it is even later. Scientists may now be able to detect the disorder well before a child's first birthday via a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Scientific American reports: Researchers conducted MRI scans on 150 children three times: at six months old, one year and two years. Just over 100 of the children were at high risk because they had an older sibling diagnosed with autism. The faster growth rate of the surface areas of their brains correctly predicted eight times out of 10 which of the high-risk children would go on to be diagnosed with the condition. Enlargement of the brain seemed to correlate with the arrival of symptoms, says Heather Hazlett, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina's Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), and the paper's lead author. Still, with only 100 at-risk children, the study is too small to be considered definitive -- nor should doctors rush to use MRIs to diagnose autism, Hazlett says. But if the study results are confirmed in future research, it could offer a new option for screening high-risk children before their symptoms become obvious -- and possibly at a time when treatment will be most effective.
Java

JavaScript Attack Breaks ASLR On 22 CPU Architectures (bleepingcomputer.com) 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Five researchers from the Vrije University in the Netherlands have put together an attack that can be carried out via JavaScript code and break ASLR protection on at least 22 microprocessor architectures from vendors such as Intel, AMD, ARM, Allwinner, Nvidia, and others. The attack, christened ASLRCache, or AnC, focuses on the memory management unit (MMU), a lesser known component of many CPU architectures, which is tasked with improving performance for cache management operations. What researchers discovered was that this component shares some of its cache with untrusted applications, including browsers. This meant that researchers could send malicious JavaScript that specifically targeted this shared memory space and attempted to read its content. In layman's terms, this means an AnC attack can break ASLR and allow the attacker to read portions of the computer's memory, which he could then use to launch more complex exploits and escalate access to the entire OS. Researchers have published two papers [1, 2] detailing the AnC attack, along with two videos[1, 2] showing the attack in action.
Transportation

Nearly 56,000 Bridges Called Structurally Deficient (usatoday.com) 243

schwit1 quotes a report from USA Today: Nearly 56,000 bridges nationwide, which vehicles cross 185 million times a day, are structurally deficient, a bridge construction group announced Wednesday. The list is based on Transportation Department data. The department scores bridges on a nine-point scale, and while the deficient ones might not be imminently unsafe, they are classified in need of attention. More than one in four bridges (173,919) are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work, according to the ARTBA analysis. State transportation officials have identified 13,000 bridges along interstates that need replacement, widening or major reconstruction, according to the group. "America's highway network is woefully underperforming," said Alison Premo Black, the group's chief economics who conducted the analysis. "It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization." The five states with the most deficient bridges are Iowa with 4,968, Pennsylvania with 4,506, Oklahoma with 3,460, Missouri with 3,195 and Nebraska with 2,361. The eight states where at least 15% of the bridges are deficient are: Rhode Island at 25%, Pennsylvania at 21%, Iowa and South Dakota at 20%, West Virginia at 17%, and Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma at 15%.
Patents

Patent Office Rules CRISPR Patents, Potentially Worth Billions, Belong To Broad Institute (theverge.com) 70

According to a ruling by judges at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the disputed patents on the gene-editing tool CRISPR belong to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "The ruling comes a little over two months after a high-profile court hearing, during which MIT and University of California, Berkeley heatedly argued about who should own CRISPR," The Verge reports. From their report: STAT News reported that the decision was one sentence long. The three judges decided that the Broad patents are different enough from the ones the University of California applied for that the Broad patents stand. The patent ruling suggests that the work done by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California and her colleagues on CRISPR wasn't so groundbreaking as to make any other advance obvious. But that legal opinion isn't how the science world views her work, STAT points out: "Doudna and her chief collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in the life sciences in 2015, the $500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in 2015, and the $450,000 Japan Prize in 2017," the outlet notes.
Open Source

MariaDB Fixes Business Source License, Releases MaxScale 2.1 (perens.com) 17

Creator of The Open Source Definition and longtime Slashdot reader Bruce Perens writes: MariaDB is releasing MaxScale 2.1, a new version of their database routing proxy, and has modified its timed-transition-to-Open-Source "Business Source License" to make it more acceptable to the Open Source community and more easily usable by other companies. I've blogged the issues I had with the license and how MariaDB has fixed them, and Kaj Arno has blogged the MariaDB side of the story. Here's an excerpt from Perens' blog post: "The BSL is a parameterized license. The licensor chooses the license which is transitioned to, the date of the transition, and the limitation. The problem with this is that it was so parameterized that if you told someone the license was 'BSL 1.0,' they would not have any idea what license they really had. It might transition to any of 100 Open Source licenses, or to a non-Open-Source license. The transition might happen in a month, or next century. The limitation might be that you could only have three commercial servers, or that you indentured your firstborn son (OK, that's going overboard, but you get the picture)." He continues, "So, I didn't like that 'BSL' didn't really say what the license did, and I didn't feel that was the best thing for the users or the community. I asked MariaDB to fix it. Together we have arrived at constraints on the parameters and minimum privileges that will take the new BSL much closer to being one license while still allowing licensors some latitude to choose parameters."
Power

Utilities Vote To Close Largest Coal Plant In Western US (arstechnica.com) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: At 2.25 gigawatts, Arizona's Navajo Generating Station is the biggest coal-burning power plant in the Western U.S. The plant, and the nearby Kayenta coal mine that feeds it, are located on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the Navajo and Hopi peoples have had a conflicted relationship with coal since the plant opened in the 1970s. Almost all the 900-plus jobs at the mine and plant are held by Native Americans, and the tribes receive royalties to account for large portions of their budget. Negotiations were underway to improve the tribes' lease terms, which expire in 2019. But on Monday, the four utilities that own most of the plant voted to close it at the end of 2019. They decided that the plant's coal-powered electricity just can't compete with plants burning natural gas. A press release from Salt River Projects, which runs the plant, explained, "The decision by the utility owners of [Navajo Generating Station] is based on the rapidly changing economics of the energy industry, which has seen natural gas prices sink to record lows and become a viable long-term and economical alternative to coal power."
Transportation

Dutch Town Pilots Lightlines To Help Distracted Smartphone Users Cross the Road (autoexpress.co.uk) 115

An anonymous reader writes: A Dutch municipality has introduced pedestrian traffic lights specifically designed to help smartphone users avoid stepping into traffic by displaying a colorful strip of light on the pavement. Built by Dutch firm HIG Traffic Systems, the new +LightLine light comes with a LED strip that illuminates the pavement with a horizontal strip before the road crossing. Smartphone users looking at their phone will see the color of the strip beneath their feet before stepping out into the road.
Security

Yahoo Notifying Users of Malicious Account Activity as Verizon Deal Progresses (techcrunch.com) 18

Kate Conger, writing for TechCrunch: Yahoo is continuing to issue warnings to users about several security incidents as it moves toward an acquisition by Verizon. Users are receiving notifications today about unauthorized access to their accounts in 2015 and 2016, which occurred due to previously disclosed cookie forging. "As we have previously disclosed, our outside forensic experts have been investigating the creation of forged cookies that could have enabled an intruder to access our users' accounts without a password. The investigation has identified user accounts for which we believe forged cookies were taken or used. Yahoo is in the process of notifying all potentially affected account holders. Yahoo has invalidated the forged cookies so they cannot be used again," a Yahoo spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Transportation

Brazil Judge Rules Uber Drivers Are Employees, Deserve Benefits (reuters.com) 131

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: A Brazilian judge ruled that a driver using the Uber ride-hailing app is an employee of the San Francisco-based company and is entitled to workers' benefits, adding to the global debate over labor rights for drivers on the platform. Uber said on Tuesday it would appeal the decision by Judge Marcio Toledo Goncalves, who issued the ruling late Monday in a labor court in Minas Gerais state. Goncalves ordered Uber to pay one driver around 30,000 reais ($10,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers. The consequences for Uber, if the ruling is upheld, could be far greater if more drivers follow suit and if state and federal regulators and tax agencies start treating it, as the judge suggested, as a transportation company rather than a tech firm.
Communications

Voice Calls May Be Coming To the Amazon Echo and Google Home (theverge.com) 23

Amazon and Google are interested in adding the ability to make and receive phone calls to their popular home speaker devices -- Echo and Home, reports WSJ, adding that telecom regulations and privacy are some of the things both the companies are tackling. If the companies are able to sort out the issues, the feature could make way to the home speaker devices as soon as this year, the paper reported. From The Verge: There's also the fact that you would only make calls over speakerphone, which could limit the usefulness of the feature for some users. Theoretically, it would be easier for Google to get a phone service up and running on the Home, given that it's been operating Google Voice for seven years and launched Project Fi back in 2015, while Amazon has to start from scratch to get its phone service up and running. According to the Journal, Amazon is considering a number of different options, including syncing to the user's existing phone number, call forwarding, or the Echo getting its own phone number.
Network

Now Get Weather Alerts Even When Your Mobile Networks Are Down, Thanks To IBM's Mesh Networking (cnet.com) 75

Communicating news of severe weather events or natural disasters is something mobile phones are well suited to, but if there's limited or disrupted network coverage the message may fail to get through. But not anymore. From a CNET report: A new Weather Channel app, though, can get the message through even during earthquakes, tornadoes, and terrorist attacks when mobile networks can be overwhelmed and may not work. The Android app, geared specifically for developing countries, uses IBM-developed technology called mesh networking that sends messages directly from one phone to another. The result is that information can propagate even when centralized networks fail. Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks, the app can send data from phone to phone across distances between 200 to 500 feet, IBM Research staff member Nirmit Desai said. It doesn't add any more battery burden than an ordinary app, and the mesh network can be used without having to reconfigure the phone's network settings.
Businesses

Apple Explains Why Its R&D Spending Is On the Rise (cnbc.com) 86

Apple has steadily increased its spending on research and development over the past few quarters. An executive with the company explained why that's the case. From a report on CNBC: Company's financial guru attributes the spending to something of a much smaller scale: chips. It may not sound like it, but that research is "very strategic and important" for Apple to differentiate itself from the rest of the industry, chief financial officer Luca Maestri said on Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco. "Today, we do much more in-house development of some fundamental technologies than we used to do a few years ago, when we did more of that in the supplier base -- the work we do around processors or sensors," Maestri said. "It's very important for us because we can push the envelope on innovation, we can better control timing, cost, quality. We look at that as a great strategic investment." On Tuesday, Maestri also noted that Apple's "product portfolio is much larger than it used to be," and that keeping all these products moving along in parallel adds up, especially with smaller markets, like the Apple Watch. While Maestri said Apple drops a "meaningful" amount of cash on products that do not generate revenue today, these products are not very large "in the total scheme of things," Maestri said. "They add up over time, and hopefully, those are good bets that we are making for the future of the company," Maestri said.
Businesses

IT Decisions Makers and Executives Don't Agree On Cyber Security Responsibility (betanews.com) 119

Sead Fadilpasic, writing for BetaNews: There's a severe disconnect between IT decision makers and C-suite executives when it comes to handling cyber attacks. Namely, both believe the other one is responsible for keeping a company safe. This is according to a new and extensive research by BAE Systems. A total of 221 C-suite executives and 984 IT decision-makers were polled or the report. According to the research, a third (35 percent) of C-suite executives believe IT teams are responsible for data breaches. On the other hand, 50 percent of IT decision makers would place that responsibility in the hands of their senior management. Cost estimates of a successful breach also differ. IT decision makers think it would set them back $19.2 million, while C-suite thinks of a lesser figure, $11.6m. C-level thinks a tenth (10 percent) of their company's IT budget is spent on cyber security, while IT decision makers think that's 15 percent. Also, 84 percent of C-suite, and 81 percent of IT teams believe they have the right protection set up.
Transportation

'Electric Buses Now Cheaper Than Their Diesel or CNG Counterpart, Could Dominate the Market Within 10 Years' (electrek.co) 382

An anonymous reader shares a report: Transit vehicles today are mostly powered by gasoline, diesel, and CNG, while batteries only represent about 1 percent of the market. It is currently a small part of the industry, but it's also the fastest growing fuel source in the sector and it's starting to become highly competitive. Electric bus maker Proterra is ramping up production and currently claims to be cheaper than diesel and CNG. It leads CEO Ryan Popple to make a bold prediction that battery-powered buses will dominate the transit bus market within 10 years. More specifically, he says that the majority of new bus sales will be electric by 2025 and all new bus sales to transit agencies will be electric by 2030. Proterra has so far only delivered a few hundred all-electric buses, but they have been announcing several major deals lately, like 73 buses from King County's Metro Transit, that seem to indicate there's a shift in the transit industry.
Android

China's Huawei Catching Up With Apple, Samsung Smartphone Sales (livemint.com) 62

From a report: Chinese smartphone maker Huawei managed to gain ground on Samsung and Apple in terms of global market share last year, following the problems encountered by the two giants, the Gartner consultancy group said on Wednesday. Over the year as a whole, the Chinese maker saw its sales leap by 26.7 percent, while the South Korean and US rivals both saw their sales decline by 4.3 percent, Gartner said in a study. As result, Huawei was able to increase its share of the smartphone sector to 8.9 percent in 2016 from 7.3 percent a year earlier, while Samsung saw its market share shrink by two full percentage points to 20.5 percent and Apple's contracted to 14.4 percent from 15.9 percent. "Chinese makers succeeded in winning market share over last year and Huawei now seems to be the main rival to the two giants, even if the gap remains large," Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann told AFP.
Android

Google's Not-so-secret New OS (techspecs.blog) 129

According to reports late last year, Google is working on a new operating system called Andromeda. Much about it is still unknown, but according to the documentations Google has provided on its website, it's clear that the Fuchsia is the actual name of the operating system, and the kernel is called Magenta. A tech enthusiast dug around the documentations to share the followings: To my naive eyes, rather than saying Chrome OS is being merged into Android, it looks more like Android and Chrome OS are both being merged into Fuchsia. It's worth noting that these operating systems had previously already begun to merge together to an extent, such as when the Android team worked with the Chrome OS team in order to bring Update Engine to Nougat, which introduced A/B updates to the platform. Google is unsurprisingly bringing up Andromeda on a number of platforms, including the humble Intel NUC. ARM, x86, and MIPS bring-up is exactly what you would expect for an Android successor, and it also seems clear that this platform will run on Intel laptops. My best guess is that Android as an API and runtime will live on as a legacy environment within Andromeda. That's not to say that all development of Android would immediately stop, which seems extremely unlikely. But Google can't push two UI APIs as equal app frameworks over the long term: Mojo is clearly the future. Ah, but what is Mojo? Well it's the new API for writing Andromeda apps, and it comes from Chromium. Mojo was originally created to "extract a common platform out of Chrome's renderer and plugin processes that can support multiple types of sandboxed content."
Blackberry

BlackBerry Files Patent-Infringement Suit Against Nokia (bloombergquint.com) 53

An anonymous reader writes: BlackBerry has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Nokia, demanding royalties on the Finnish company's mobile network products that use an industrywide technology standard. Nokia's products including its Flexi Multiradio base stations, radio network controllers and Liquid Radio software are using technology covered by as many as 11 patents, BlackBerry said in a complaint filed in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. The mobile network products and services are provided to companies including T-Mobile and AT&T for their LTE networks, BlackBerry said in the complaint. "Nokia has persisted in encouraging the use" of the standard- compliant products without a license from BlackBerry, it said.
Security

Russian Cyberspies Blamed For US Election Hacks Are Now Targeting Macs (computerworld.com) 251

You may recall "APT28", the Russian hacking group which was tied to last year's interference in the presidential election. It has long been known for its advanced range of tools for penetrating Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. Now, researchers have uncovered an equally sophisticated malware package the group used to compromise Macs. From a report on ComputerWorld: The group -- known in the security industry under different names including Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, and APT28 -- has been operating for almost a decade. It is believed to be the sole user and likely developer of a Trojan program called Sofacy or X-Agent. X-Agent variants for Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS have been found in the wild in the past, but researchers from Bitdefender have now come across what appears to be the first macOS version of the Trojan. It's not entirely clear how the malware is being distributed because the Bitdefender researchers obtained only the malware sample, not the full attack chain. However, it's possible a macOS malware downloader dubbed Komplex, found in September, might be involved. Komplex infected Macs by exploiting a known vulnerability in the MacKeeper antivirus software, according to researchers from Palo Alto Networks who investigated the malware at the time. The vulnerability allowed attackers to execute remote commands on a Mac when users visited specially crafted web pages.Further reading on ArsTechnica.
Medicine

New Study In Mice Shows That Increasing Serotonin Affects Motivation, But Only In Certain Circumstances (neurosciencenews.com) 47

New submitter baalcat quotes a report from Neuroscience News: A new study in mice shows that increasing serotonin, one of the major mediators of brain communication, affects motivation -- but only in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the study revealed that the short and long term effects of increased serotonin levels are opposed -- a completely unforeseen property of this neurotransmitter's functional system. A surprising behavioral effect, discovered in mice by neuroscientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU), in Lisbon, Portugal, strongly suggests that serotonin is involved in a biological mechanism which affects the animals' motivation. The study has now been published in the online open access journal eLife. Serotonin, one of the chemical "messengers," or neurotransmitters, in the brain, is used by neurons to communicate with each other. It plays an important role in the regulation of sleep, movement and other behaviors which are essential for animal survival. But for motivation in particular, it was unclear whether serotonin was involved. Using optogenetics, the team stimulated the release of serotonin from neurons in the raphe nuclei. They first induced "peaks" of serotonin by stimulating these neurons with pulses of light, lasting three seconds every ten seconds, over three five-minute time periods. The mice, placed in a box, were left free to explore their environment. In these conditions, their most frequent spontaneous behaviors are walking around, rearing, grooming, digging holes or keeping relatively still, but nevertheless alert. The only difference the scientists saw was that stimulation caused the mice to reduce their locomotive speed by about 50%. In general, this stimulation of serotonin-producing neurons did not affect other behaviors. The effect of these serotonin "peaks" on locomotion was almost instantaneous (speed reduction manifested one second after stimulation) and transient, with things going back to normal after five seconds. But during this short period of time, "the animals acted as if they weren't motivated," says Zach Mainen, who led the study.
Earth

Iron Age Potters Accidentally Recorded the Strength of Earth's Magnetic Field (npr.org) 118

Solandri writes: We've only been able to measure the Earth's magnetic field strength for about two centuries. During this time, there has been a gradual decline in the field strength. In recent years, the rate of decline seems to be accelerating, leading to some speculation that the Earth may be losing its magnetic field -- a catastrophic possibility since the magnetic field is what protects life on Earth from dangerous solar radiation. Ferromagnetic particles in rocks provide a long-term history which tells us the poles have flipped numerous times. But uncertainties in dating the rocks prevents their use in understanding decade-scale magnetic field fluctuations.

Now a group of archeologists and geophysicists have come up with a novel way to produce decade-scale temporal measurements of the Earth's magnetic field strength from before the invention of the magnetometer. When iron-age potters fired their pottery in a kiln to harden it, it loosened tiny ferromagnetic particles in the clay. As the pottery cooled and these particles hardened, it captured a snapshot of the Earth's magnetic field. Crucially, the governments of that time required pottery used to collect taxed goods (e.g. a portion of olive oil sold) to be stamped with a royal seal. These seals changed over time as new kings ascended, or governments were completely replaced after invasion. Thus by cross-referencing the magnetic particles in the pottery with the seals, researchers were able to piece together a history of the Earth's magnetic field strength spanning from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century BCE. Their findings show that large fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field over a span of decades are normal.
The study has been published in the journal PNAS.
Space

ISRO Makes History, Launches 104 Satellites With Single Rocket (indiatimes.com) 158

neo12 writes: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by launching 104 satellites in a single launch. The lift-off of PSLVC 37 at 9.28 am from Sriharikota was a perfect one. In 28 minutes, all 104 satellites were successfully placed into the Earth's orbit. 101 of the 104 satellites belong to six foreign countries, including 96 from the U.S. and one each from Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan. According to Times of India, "Russian Space Agency held a record of launching 37 satellites in one go during its mission in June 2014. India previously launched 23 satellites in a single mission in June 2015."

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