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Mars

Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make 'The Martian' (backchannel.com) 180

Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India's underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie "The Martian," starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. "While NASA's Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million," Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India's version of "Hidden Figures" (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO's budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months. Backchannel reports: A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars' gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars' gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, "you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work." This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space. User shas3 notes in a comment on Hacker News' post: "If you are interested in Indian women scientists and engineers, there is a nice compilation (a bit tiresome to read, but worth it, IMO) of biographical essays called 'Lilvati's Daughters.'"
Security

Windows 10 UAC Bypass Uses Backup and Restore Utility (bleepingcomputer.com) 58

An anonymous reader writes: "A new User Access Control (UAC) bypass technique relies on altering Windows registry app paths and using the Backup and Restore utility to load malicious code without any security warning," reports BleepingComputer. The technique works when an attacker launches the Backup and Restore utility, which loads its control panel settings page. Because the utility doesn't known where this settings page is located, it queries the Windows Registry. The problem is that low-privileged users can modify Windows Registry values and point to malware. Because the Backup and Restore utility is a trusted application, UAC prompts are suppressed. This technique only works in Windows 10 (not earlier OS versions) and was tested with Windows 10 build 15031. A proof-of-concept script is available on GitHub. The same researcher had previously found two other UAC bypass techniques, one that abuses the Windows Event Viewer, and one that relies on the Windows 10 Disk Cleanup utility
Businesses

Insurance Startup Uses Behavioral Science To Keep Customers Honest (fastcompany.com) 52

tedlistens quotes a report from Fast Company: Insurance startup Lemonade won itself headlines in January with the boast that it had successfully approved a claim in just three seconds. In that time, Lemonade's software had run 18 anti-fraud algorithms and sent a payment to the lucky customer's bank account -- a process that would have taken a traditional property and casualty insurer days, if not weeks. But it's what happened before Lemonade's artificial intelligence kicked into gear that makes the renegade insurer so potentially disruptive to this trillion-dollar industry, for which premiums alone comprise 7% of U.S. GDP. The customer, Brooklyn educator Brandon Pham, opened Lemonade's mobile app, signed an "honesty pledge" to attest to the truth of his claim, and then recorded a short video explaining that his Canada Goose parka, worth nearly $1,000, had been stolen. That deceptively simple claims process is the byproduct of academic research on psychology and behavioral economics conducted by Dan Arielyblog, one of the field's most prominent voices and Lemonade's chief behavioral officer. "There's a lot of science about when people behave and misbehave that has not been put to use," says Lemonade cofounder and CEO Daniel Schreiber. Lemonade is even applying behavioral science to itself, publishing unusually transparent blog posts that include data on customer growth, bank account balances, and more.
Businesses

Raspberry Pi Becomes Third Best-Selling General Purpose Computer of All Time, Beating Commodore 64 (raspberrypi.org) 145

The Raspberry Pi has outsold the Commodore 64 by selling north of 12.5 million boards in five years, becoming the world's third best-selling general purpose computer. "The Commodore 64, had, until recently, the distinction of being the third most popular general purpose computing platform," Eben Upton told a crowd at the fifth birthday party. "That's what I'm here to celebrate," he said, "we are now the third most popular general purpose computing platform after the Mac and PC." The MagPi Magazine reports: The Raspberry Pi Model 3 is the best-selling Raspberry Pi. This chart shows that Raspberry Pi 3 has accounted for almost a third of all Raspberry Pi boards sold. The Model 3 sits next to its immediate predecessor, the Raspberry Pi 2B+ (which has the same board shape but a slightly slower CPU). These two boards account for over half of all Raspberry Pi boards sold. The rest of the sales are between older models. The original Model A accounts for just 2 percent of sales. So keep one if you've got it as they're pretty rare. We should point out, before the Commodore fan club arrives, that there are discrepancies in the total number of sales of the C64. The 12.5 million figure comes from an analysis of serial numbers. This article by Michael Steil explains in detail why the 12.5 million number is accurate. We hold it to be the most accurate analysis of Commodore 64 sales (other opinions are available).
Power

Tesla Discontinuing Model S With 60 KWh Battery (electrek.co) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: April 16th, 2017 will be the last day to order the Model S 60 and 60D. The vehicles were the least expensive models that customers could purchase from Tesla -- starting at $68,000. The Model S 60 and 60D were equipped with 75 kWh battery packs software-locked to 60 kWh. Owners were able to unlock the remaining 15 kWh through a software update for a fee at any time after the purchase if they decided that they wanted more capacity. Tesla says that they are making the change because most customers ultimately end up upgrading to 75 kWh and they want to streamline the ordering process. It comes as Tesla is preparing to launch the Model 3, which should start at $35,000, but higher performance versions are expected to be offered at higher prices closer to the price of the Model S. It would make sense for Tesla to try to create a bigger gap between the two vehicles.
Youtube

YouTube To Discontinue Video Annotations Because They Never Worked On Mobile (theverge.com) 61

You know those notes found plastered on many YouTube videos, often asking for you to "CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE?" Well, they're called annotations and they're being replaced with what YouTube calls "End Screen and Cards," which are mobile-friendly tools that let content creators poll their audience, link to merchandise, recommend videos, and more. Unlike annotations, they work on mobile and are designed to be less obnoxious to viewers. The Verge reports: YouTube says it made this change primarily because annotations didn't work on mobile and most viewers found them obnoxious and unhelpful. The change takes effect on May 2nd, and existing annotations will continue to show up when using the desktop browser version of YouTube. YouTube annotations have felt increasingly outdated and out of place. The small text boxes were meant as a way to let creators link to other videos, write in little jokes, and add ancillary information to a video much like a hyperlink or footnote of sorts. But over the years, annotation use has drastically fallen off, by 70 percent, YouTube product manager Muli Salem says. In fact, a majority of viewers interact with annotations only to close them, so the boxes don't obstruct the video screen. Many users turn them off altogether. So now YouTube is investing entirely in End Screens and Cards, and making both tools easier to use and faster to implement.
Crime

Judge Grants Search Warrant For Everyone Who Searched a Crime Victim's Name On Google (startribune.com) 101

Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson has issued a search warrant to Edina, Minnesota police to collect information on people who searched for variations of a crime victim's name on Google from Dec. 1 through Jan. 7. Google would be required to provide Edina police with basic contact information for people targeted by the warrant, as well as Social Security numbers, account and payment information, and IP and MAC addresses. StarTribune reports: Information on the warrant first emerged through a blog post by public records researcher Tony Webster. Edina police declined to comment Thursday on the warrant, saying it is part of an ongoing investigation. Detective David Lindman outlined the case in his application for the search warrant: In early January, two account holders with SPIRE Credit Union reported to police that $28,500 had been stolen from a line of credit associated with one of their accounts, according to court documents. Edina investigators learned that the suspect or suspects provided the credit union with the account holder's name, date of birth and Social Security number. In addition, the suspect faxed a forged U.S. passport with a photo of someone who looked like the account holder but wasn't. Investigators ran an image search of the account holder's name on Google and found the photo used on the forged passport. Other search engines did not turn up the photo. According to the warrant application, Lindman said he had reason to believe the suspect used Google to find a picture of the person they believed to be the account holder. Larson signed off on the search warrant on Feb. 1. According to court documents, Lindman served it about 20 minutes later.
Communications

Netflix Replacing Star Ratings With Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down (variety.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Variety: Get ready to say goodbye to star ratings on Netflix: The company is getting ready to replace stars with Pandora-like thumbs ups and thumbs downs in the coming weeks. Previously-given star rating will still be used to personalize the profiles of Netflix users, but the stars are disappearing from the interface altogether. Netflix VP of Product Todd Yellin told journalists on Thursday during a press briefing at the company's headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., that the company had tested the new thumbs up and down ratings with hundred of thousands of members in 2016. "We are addicted to the methodology of A/B testing," Yellin said. The result was that thumbs got 200% more ratings than the traditional star-rating feature. Netflix is also introducing a new percent-match feature that shows how good of a match any given show or movie is for an individual subscriber. For example, a show that should close to perfectly fit a user's taste may get a 98% match. Shows that have less than a 50% match won't display a match-rating, however.
Businesses

Uber Nowhere Close to Having a Fully Autonomous Vehicle, Its Self-Driving Cars Need a Lot of Human Help (recode.net) 87

Uber may see self-driving cars as "existential" to its future, but the company is nowhere close to having a fully autonomous vehicle. According to internal documents obtained by Recode, during the week ending March 8, Uber's self-driving cars traveled, on average, just 0.8 miles on their own before a human had to take over, in a process known as "disengagement." From the report: As a whole, Uber's self-driving system is putting on many more miles than it did in January. Last week, the company's 43 active cars drove 20,354 miles autonomously, according to the documents. This is only the second time since late December 2016 that its cars have driven more than 20,000 miles in a week. In January, the cars only drove 5,000 miles. At that point, however, the company only had about 20 active vehicles, mainly in Pittsburgh. By February, the company's cars were driving themselves around 18,000 miles a week. Uber passengers took around 930 rides in these autonomous cars in Pittsburgh last week and around 150 rides in Phoenix. To be clear, these vehicles still had a driver at the wheel to take over if needed. In Pittsburgh, where Uber launched its commercial self-driving pilot in September, the company has been performing around 800 or more UberX trips per week in semi-autonomous mode since the middle of February.
Movies

Movie Theaters Haven't Innovated Beyond Popcorn, Says Netflix CEO (variety.com) 213

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety: Asked about his company's relationship with major theater chains, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings didn't pull any punches on Thursday. "How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that's about it," he quipped. "What Netflix wants to do is to unleash film," he said. "It's fundamentally about growing the movie business." [...] On Thursday, Hastings pushed back against the notion that the company aims to bypass theaters. "We are not anti theater," he said. "We just want things to come out at the same time."
Crime

FBI Arrests Alleged Attacker Who Tweeted Seizure-Inducing Strobe at a Writer (theverge.com) 151

From a report on The Verge: An arrest has been made three months after someone tweeted a seizure-inducing strobe at writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald. The Dallas FBI confirmed the arrest to The Verge today, and noted that a press release with more details is coming. Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, tweeted details of the arrest and said that more than 40 other people also sent him strobes after he publicized the first attack. Their information is now with the FBI, he says. It isn't clear whether these "different charges" relate to similar online harassment incidents or something else entirely.
IBM

IBM To Hire 2,000 More Veterans, Expand Tech Training Schools (axios.com) 32

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is among the tech leaders meeting Friday with President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Axios has learned. They'll discuss worker training. And IBM will announce plans to: Open 20 more of its P-TECH schools, which let students get a combined high school degree and associate degree in science and technology in as little as four and a half years. Hire 2,000 U.S. military veterans over the next four years and expand a program that trains and certifies veterans in the use of the type of IBM software often used by law enforcement, cybersecurity and national security agencies.
Businesses

What If You Could Eat Chicken Without Killing a Chicken? (theoutline.com) 331

From a report on The Outline: San Francisco-based startup Memphis Meats announced this week that it had grown chicken in a lab -- chicken strips, to be precise. The strips, which were grown using self-reproducing cells, are technically "meat," but because the cells were not from an animal, the process by which this "meat" was "raised" is much cleaner, resulting in animal food that has the potential to sate both environmental groups as well as animal rights activists and vegetarians. Memphis Meats says it's hoping the product is ready for commercial sale by 2021. The company is part of an ever-increasing horde of Silicon Valley startups trying to solve the complicated problems of the meat industry, which range from cultural ideas about food to industrial and environmental issues to, increasingly, discussions about animal cruelty. [...] About 99 percent of animals raised for slaughter in the U.S. come from factory farms, and about a third of the land mass of the Earth is used in raising livestock. More so than chicken, livestock is incredibly inefficient to raise: It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce just a pound of beef.
Firefox

Firefox Goes PulseAudio Only, Leaves ALSA Users With No Sound (omgubuntu.co.uk) 322

An anonymous reader shares a report: If you're a Linux user who upgraded to Firefox 52 only to find that the browser no longer plays sound, you're not alone. Firefox 52 saw release last week and it makes PulseAudio a hard dependency -- meaning ALSA only desktops are no longer supported. Ubuntu uses PulseAudio by default (as most modern Linux distributions do) so the switch won't affect most -- but some Linux users and distros do prefer, for various reasons, to use ALSA, which is part of the Linux kernel. Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is one of the distros that use ALSA by default. Lubuntu users who upgraded to Firefox 52 through the regular update channel were, without warning, left with a web browser that plays no sound. Lubuntu 16.10 users are not affected as the distro switched to PulseAudio.
Space

Miniature Lab Begins Science Experiments in Outer Space (reuters.com) 27

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: Orbiting the earth at more than 500 kilometers (300 miles), a tiny satellite with a laboratory shrunk to the size of a tissue box is helping scientists carry out experiments that take gravity out of the equation. The technology was launched into space last month by SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli company, which on Thursday announced that its first experiments have been completed successfully. In space, with hardly any interference from earth's gravity, cells and molecules behave differently, helping researchers make discoveries in fields from medicine to agriculture. Nestle turned to zero gravity -- or what scientists refer to as microgravity -- to perfect the foam in its chocolate mousse and coffee, while drugmakers like Eli Lilly have used it to improve drug designs.
Google

Google's Allo App Can Reveal To Your Friends What You've Searched (recode.net) 61

Google's new messaging app Allo can reveal your search history and other personal information when you include the Google Assistant bot in chats, according to a report. From the article: My friend directed Assistant to identify itself. Instead of offering a name or a pithy retort, it responded with a link from Harry Potter fan website Pottermore. The link led to an extract from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. But the response was not merely a nonsequitur. It was a result related to previous searches my friend said he had done a few days earlier. [...] When I asked "What is my job?" in my conversation with my friend, Assistant responded by sharing a Google Maps image showing the address at which I used to work -- the address of a co-working space, not the publicly listed address of my previous employer. Google had the address on file because I had included it in my personal Google Maps settings. It did not ask my permission to share that.
United Kingdom

Elderly 'Hit by Line Rental Charges' (bbc.com) 82

An anonymous reader shares a BBC report: Recent increases in line rental charges have hit elderly people the hardest, according to an Ofcom report. Between December 2009 and December 2016, line rental prices had increased by as much as 49% for some customers, the regulator said. And of the people with standalone landlines in their homes, 71% were aged 65 or over. Ofcom recently revealed plans to make BT -- with nearly 80% of the UK market -- cut line rental costs by 5 British Pound ($6.1). A huge proportion (43%) of the 2.9 million households with a landline only are occupied by people aged 75 and over. "Older consumers are particularly affected, as they are more likely to be dependent on fixed voice services if they do not have a mobile phone or an internet connection," the report said.
Education

Ebook Pirates Are Relatively Old and Wealthy, Study Finds (torrentfreak.com) 153

A new study has found that people who illegally download ebooks are older and wealthier than most people's perception of the average pirate. From a report on TorrentFreak: Commissioned by anti-piracy company Digimarc, the study suggests that people aged between 30 and 44 years old with a household income of between $60k and $99k are most likely to grab a book without paying for it. [...] In previous studies, it has been younger downloaders that have grabbed much of the attention, and this one is no different. Digimarc reveals that 41 percent of all adult pirates are aged between 18 and 29 but perhaps surprisingly, 47 percent fall into the 30 to 44-year-old bracket. At this point, things tail off very quickly, as the remaining 13 percent are aged 45 or up.
Transportation

A US Ally Shot Down a $200 Drone With a $3 Million Patriot Missile (theverge.com) 318

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Earlier this week, General David Perkins, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) spoke at the Association of the US Army's Global Force symposium, where he discussed the threats that the US military would begin to face in the coming years. One notable example is how a US ally recently shot down a $200 consumer drone with a $3.4 million worth Patriot Missile. Perkins' talk during the symposium focused on the complexity of a military organization in the field, and how the interconnected nature of air, ground, and sea forces can lead to a fragmented response to a threat between the commanders who are in charge of specific areas. [...] "The gut instinct was," he explains, "that's an air defense problem, because they're in the air." "In fact," he went on to say, "we have a very close ally of ours that was dealing with an adversary using small quadcopter UASs, and they shot it down with a Patriot missile." The problem, he said, wasn't effectiveness: the tiny drone didn't stand a chance -- the issue is economics.
The Courts

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute (nytimes.com) 331

Daniel VIctor, writing for The New York Times: A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded -- or totally necessary -- Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks. What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million. In 2014, three truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy, seeking more than four years' worth of overtime pay that they had been denied (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate link from a syndicated partner). Maine law requires workers to be paid 1.5 times their normal rate for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carves out some exemptions. [...] The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma -- also known as the serial comma -- in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to: "The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. Oakhurst Dairy is arguing that "packing for shipment" and "distribution" are two different items in the list. But that's not how the truck drivers are seeing it. They argue that "packing for shipment or distribution" is one item.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your Horrible IT Boss Story? 300

snydeq writes: Good-bye, programming peers; hello, power to abuse at your whim, writes Bob Lewis in a send-up of an all-too-familiar situation: The engineering colleague who transforms into a greasy political manipulator upon promotion into management. "It's legendary: A CIO promotes his best developer into a management role, losing an excellent programmer and gaining a bad manager. The art of management isn't so much about assembling a dream team, helping others be successful, or solving technical problems. It's about aligning everything you do in service of the business -- the business of yourself.'" What tales do you have of colleagues who broke bad all the way to the top?
The Military

Physicist Declassifies Rescued Nuclear Test Films (llnl.gov) 62

Eloking quotes a report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: The U.S. conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, with multiple cameras capturing each event at around 2,400 frames per second. But in the decades since, around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scattered across the country in high-security vaults. Not only were they gathering dust, the film material itself was slowly decomposing, bringing the data they contained to the brink of being lost forever. For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify these decomposing films. The goals are to preserve the films' content before it's lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective. To date, the team has located around 6,500 of the estimated 10,000 films created during atmospheric testing. Around 4,200 films have been scanned, 400 to 500 have been reanalyzed and around 750 have been declassified. An initial set of these declassified films -- tests conducted by LLNL -- were published today in an LLNL YouTube playlist.
Space

Astronomers Find Star Orbiting a Black Hole At 1 Percent the Speed of Light (sciencealert.com) 124

schwit1 writes: Astronomers have spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 28 days for our Moon to do a single lap around our relatively tiny planet at speeds of 3,683 km(2,288 miles) per hour. Using data from an array of deep space telescopes, a team of astronomers have measured the X-rays pouring from a binary star system called 47 Tuc X9, which sits in a cluster of stars about 14,800 light-years away. The pair of stars aren't new to astronomers -- they were identified as a binary system way back in 1989 -- but it's now finally becoming clear what's actually going on here. When a white dwarf pulls material from another star, the system is described as a cataclysmic variable star. But back in 2015, one of the objects was found to be a black hole, throwing that hypothesis into serious doubt. Data from Chandra has confirmed large amounts of oxygen in the pair's neighborhood, which is commonly associated with white dwarf stars. But instead of a white dwarf ripping apart another star, it now seems to be a black hole stripping the gases from a white dwarf. The real exciting news, however, is regular changes in the X-rays' intensity suggest this white dwarf takes just 28 minutes to complete an orbit, making it the current champion of cataclysmic dirty dancers. To put it in perspective, the distance between the two objects in X9 is about 1 million kilometers (about 600,000 miles), or about 2.5 times the distance from here to the Moon. Crunching the numbers, that's a journey of roughly 6.3 million kilometers (about 4 million miles) in half an hour, giving us a speed of 12,600,000 km/hr (8,000,000 miles/hr) - about 1 percent of the speed of light.

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