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Programming

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Stop The Deployment Of Unapproved Code Changes? 307

Over a million lines of code -- in existence for over 10 years -- gets updates in six-week "sprints" using source control and bug-tracking systems. But now an anonymous reader writes: In theory users report bugs, the developers "fix" the bugs, the users test and accept the fix, and finally the "fix" gets released to production as part of a larger change-set. In practice, the bug is reported, the developers implement "a fix", no one else tests it (except for the developer(s) ), and the "fix" gets released with the larger code change set, to production.

We (the developers) don't want to release "fixes" that users haven't accepted, but the code changes often include changes at all levels of the stack (database, DOAs, Business Rules, Webservices and multiple front-ends). Multiple code changes could be occurring in the same areas of code by different developers at the same time, making merges of branches very complex and error prone. Many fingers are in the same pie. Our team size, structure and locations prevent having a single gatekeeper for code check-ins... What tools and procedures do you use to prevent un-approved fixes from being deployed to production as part of the larger code change sets?

Fixes are included in a test build for users to test and accept -- but what if they never do? Leave your best answers in the comments. How woud you stop un-approved code changes from being deployed?
Transportation

Uber Face Fines Over Drunk Driving Complaints -- And Lost $2.8 Billion Last Year (usnews.com) 133

While Uber's bookings doubled last year, the company still showed a net lost of $2.8 billion. And now, "California regulators are recommending that Uber pay a $1.13 million fine for not investigating rider complaints that drivers were working intoxicated." An anonymous reader writes: California "requires ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs," notes Reuters -- and yet Tuesday's order reports that investigators "found no evidence that (Uber) followed up in any way with zero-tolerance complaints several hours or even one full day after passengers filed such complaints." Investigators from the state's Public Utilities Commission are asking the full commission to examine their findings,

"To confirm the policy, regulators analyzed selected complaints against drivers who received three or more complaints," Reuters reports. Though Uber has sometimes suspended drivers within one hour of customer complaints -- 22 times -- they've apparently received 2,047 drug- or alcohol-related complaints between August 2014 and August of 2015. "The company said drivers were banned from working in 574 of those complaints, according to the order. But regulators then reviewed 154 complaints, and determined that the company failed to promptly suspend drivers in 149 complaints. The company also failed to investigate 133 complaints, and did not suspend a driver or investigate 113 complaints, the order shows... In at least 25 instances, Uber failed to suspend or investigate a driver after three or more complaints, the order states."

An Uber spokeswoman said the company had no comment, but "Adding to Uber's challenges, a Reuters investigation found a ten-fold increase in attacks on drivers in Sao Paulo last year, including several murders, after the start of cash payments on its platform at the end of July." And in addition, a judge in Brazil ruled last week that Uber's drivers are employees, which could make Uber liable for a variety of benefits, following a similar ruling in another Brazilian state court.

But there's also some good news for Uber. A court in Rome suspended a ban on Uber in Italy until the company finishes its legal appeal, and a two-month suspension in Taiwan also came to an end after Uber agreed to partner with license rental car companies.
Education

Maryland Awards 21 Grants To Prepare 'Open Source' Textbooks (usmd.edu) 98

"The University System of Maryland has awarded 21 "mini grants" to university faculty to "help them expand open education resources," reports OpenSource.com. Recipients of the grants are also given time off to prepare courses that use open textbooks, and will receive personalized support and training on effective course design. An anonymous reader writes: "Although our faculty view textbooks as essential, some of our students see them as a luxury they cannot afford," said Community College of Baltimore County President Sandra Kurtinitis. "Having access to open educational resources will provide some financial relief for our students as well as contribute to their academic success." The cost of textbooks has risen 812% since 1978, the school system said in an announcement, "outpacing even the cost of medical services and new housing. Nationally, students spend an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks."

The Maryland Open Source Textbook initiative started in 2013 "to provide a state-wide opportunity for faculty to explore the promise of open education resources to reduce students' cost of attendance while maintaining, or perhaps even improving, learning outcomes." Since then it's helped replace traditional textbooks in over 60 different courses at 14 public institutions across the state, resulting in a cumulative cost savings of over $1 million for 3,500 students. "In addition to saving students money, faculty have gained the ability to adapt and customize their instructional materials to ensure they are aligned with their pedagogical methods to best meet their students' needs," the school system reports. "In follow up surveys with students participating in the MOST initiative, 93% reported that the open educational resource content they used was the same or better quality than traditional textbooks."

Science

Supercomputers Help Researchers Find Two New Kinds Of Magnets (phys.org) 79

"Predicting magnets is a heck of a job, and their discovery is very rare," said a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University. But after years of work synthesizing various predictions, material scientists "predicted and built two new magnetic materials, atom-by-atom, using high-throughput computational models." An anonymous reader quotes Phys.org: The success marks a new era for the large-scale design of new magnetic materials at unprecedented speed. Although magnets abound in everyday life, they are actually rarities -- only about 5% of known inorganic compounds show even a hint of magnetism. And of those, just a few dozen are useful in real-world applications because of variability in properties such as effective temperature range and magnetic permanence...

In a new study, materials scientists from Duke University provide a shortcut in this process. They show the capability to predict magnetism in new materials through computer models that can screen hundreds of thousands of candidates in short order. And, to prove it works, they've created two magnetic materials that have never been seen before.

"The first alloy is particularly interesting," reports the International Business Times, "because it contains no rare-earth materials, which are both expensive and difficult to acquire." But a Duke mechanical engineering professor points out that "It doesn't really matter if either of these new magnets proves useful in the future. The ability to rapidly predict their existence is a major coup and will be invaluable to materials scientists moving forward."
NES (Games)

Geek Builds His Own NES Classic With A Raspberry Pi (arstechnica.com) 130

"It turns out that the NES Classic Edition is just a little Linux-powered board inside a cute case," writes Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, "and it's totally possible to build your own tiny Linux-powered computer inside a cute case without spending much more than $60." An anonymous reader writes: Andrew used a $42 Raspberry Pi 3 Model B -- "it's relatively cheap and relatively powerful, and it can easily handle anything from the original PlayStation on down" -- plus an $8 case, and a microSD card. He also purchased a pair of gamepads -- there's several options -- and reports that "Putting our little box together is ridiculously easy, and you ought to have no problem with it even if you've never opened up a PC tower in your life."

"Making retro game consoles is a fairly common use case for the Pi, so there are a few different operating system choices out there," Andrew reports, and he ultimately chose the Linux-based RetroPie OS, which includes a number of emulators. Basically the process boils down to dropping a RetroPie boot image onto the SD card, putting it into the Pi, and then plugging it into your display and connecting your controllers -- plus configuring some menus. "The default quality of the emulation looks just as good as it does on the NES Classic Edition," and "the emulators for these older systems are all advanced enough that things should mostly run just like they did on the original hardware... I've been having a ton of fun with mine now that it's all set up, and its flexibility (plus the quality of those USB gamepads) has made it my favorite way to play old games, outpacing my Apple TV, the pretty but not-living-room-friendly OpenEmu, and the old hacked Wii I still have sitting around."

The hardest part may just be finding a PC with an SD card slot -- and of course, the resulting system gives you lots of flexibility. "By using the Raspberry Pi and freely available software, you can build something capable of doing a whole heck of a lot more than playing the same 30 NES games over and over again."
Sci-Fi

Steve Wozniak Predicts The Future (usatoday.com) 198

USA Today asked Steve Wozniak to predict what the world will look like in 2075 -- one hundred years after the founding of Apple. An anonymous reader writes: "He's convinced Apple, Google and Facebook will be bigger in 2075," according to the article -- just like IBM, which endured long past its founding in 1911. Pointing to Apple's $246.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, Wozniak says Apple "can invest in anything. It would be ridiculous to not expect them to be around... The same goes for Google and Facebook."

Woz predicted portable laptops back in 1982, and now says that by 2075, we could also see new cities built from scratch in the deserts, with people wearing special suits to protect them from the heat. AI will be ubiquitous in all cities, as consumers interact with smart walls to communicate -- and to shop -- while home medical devices will allow self-diagnosis and doctor-free prescriptions. And according to the article, Woz "is convinced a colony will exist on the Red Planet. Echoing the sentiments of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, whose Blue Origin start-up has designs on traveling to Mars, Wozniak envisions Earth zoned for residential use and Mars for heavy industry." (Though he doesn't have high hopes that we'll ever meet aliens.)

Woz is promoting the Silicon Valley Comic Con next weekend. (Not coincidentally, its theme is "The Future of Humanity: Where Will We Be in 2075?") During the interview, Woz pointed at a colleague's iPhone, smiled broadly and said it "shows you how exciting the future can be."
AI

Disruptive AI Bots Are Aleady Delivering Radical Leaps In Productivity (venturebeat.com) 56

The CTO of Textio is describing the "already happening" AI disruption that no one's noticed, arguing that voice-activated assistants are "just one small part of what AI is about -- and not the part that will matter the most for the enterprise companies that actually buy almost $4 trillion in software and services each year." An anonymous reader writes: Jensen Harris describes "the less-flashy flavor of AI that is changing the nature of work itself: headless AI...the application of artificial intelligence to vastly improve internal business processes. It is fully transforming the crucial machinery of business -- processes like hiring, lead generation, financial modeling, and information security. Legacy software has become a commodity in all of these areas, and purpose-built AI solutions will get a larger and larger wallet share of these huge enterprise cost centers."

Combining machine intelligence with learning loops, these constantly-evolving algorithms are "where the money is," since headless AI "doesn't try to replace people; it gives them superpowers" -- for example, predicting the future. Harris ultimately argues that headless AI are delivering "radical productivity leaps that they haven't seen from software in decades... In the near future, every core business function will have been transformed by AI -- hiring, sales, security, marketing, finance, manufacturing...everything... Legacy software will get squeezed down into a smaller portion of the IT wallet as the most valuable services become the native AI platforms -- just as form-based desktop software got squeezed out by the cloud in the last generation... the real enterprise revolution is happening in the companies that are using headless AI to transform their core businesses."

By comparison, he argues that many of today's bots "are kind of a hipster facade around the same basic command line interfaces consumers abandoned in the 1980," and suggests this focus on personality misses the larger significance of behind-the-scenes AI.
Crime

Researchers Find 25,000 Domains Used In Tech Support Scams (onthewire.io) 85

An anonymous reader writes: Three doctoral students at Stony Brook University spent eight months analyzing internet scammers who pose as remote tech support workers (usually pretending to be from Microsoft of Apple). Their research revealed more than 25,000 scam domains and thousands of different scam phone numbers. "Although victims of these scams can be anywhere, the researchers found that 85.4% of the IP addresses in these scams were located across different regions of India," reports On The Wire, "with 9.7% located in the United States and 4.9% in Costa Rica. Scammers typically asked users for an average of $291, with prices ranging from $70 to $1,000."

The researchers even called 60 of the con artists to study their technique, and concluded most were working in large, organized call centers. They use remote access tools, and in fact two popular tools were used in 81% of the scams, according to the paper. "We found that, on average, a scammer takes 17 minutes, using multiple social engineering techniques mostly based on misrepresenting OS messages, to convince users of their infections..."

Medicine

88% Of Medical 'Second Opinions' Give A Different Diagnosis - And So Do Some AI (mayoclinic.org) 74

First, "A new study finds that nearly 9 in 10 people who go for a second opinion after seeing a doctor are likely to leave with a refined or new diagnosis from what they were first told," according to an article shared by Slashdot reader schwit1: Researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined 286 patient records of individuals who had decided to consult a second opinion, hoping to determine whether being referred to a second specialist impacted one's likelihood of receiving an accurate diagnosis. The study, conducted using records of patients referred to the Mayo Clinic's General Internal Medicine Division over a two-year period, ultimately found that when consulting a second opinion, the physician only confirmed the original diagnosis 12 percent of the time. Among those with updated diagnoses, 66% received a refined or redefined diagnosis, while 21% were diagnosed with something completely different than what their first physician concluded.
But in a related story, Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes that four machine-learning algorithms all performed better than currently-used algorithm of the American College of Cardiology, according to newly-published research, which concludes that "machine-learning significantly improves accuracy of cardiovascular risk prediction, increasing the number of patients identified who could benefit from preventive treatment, while avoiding unnecessary treatment of others."

"I can't stress enough how important it is," one Stanford vascular surgeon told Science magazine, "and how much I really hope that doctors start to embrace the use of artificial intelligence to assist us in care of patients."
Displays

Religion Meets Virtual Reality: Christianity-Themed VR Demo Scheduled For Easter (nbcnews.com) 90

"Anyone looking to experience God in a brand new way will soon have his or her chance -- virtually," writes NBC News, reporting on "a new immersive faith-based virtual reality experience...part of a larger project created by L. Michelle Media called Mission VR." An anonymous reader writes: The company was founded "to create a signature virtual reality environment -- a faith world of sorts -- where dynamic, never before seen, Christian lifestyle stories and experiences could have a home." Demos have been timed to coincide with this weekend's Easter celebration, while the official launch happens later this spring. Viewers will apparently experience biographical stories combining VR applications and YouTube videos to showcase the power of belief. "Up until now, we've only been able to watch Christianity from a third person perspective -- preached sermons, music videos, interviews, even reality shows..." says the founder of Mission VR. "This is the future of Christian programming."
But one reverend told NBC that VR worlds could be dangerous because they "may take people from community and from the incarnational aspects of Christian life... [W]e always run a very serious risk that the medium overtakes the message... What we must do is guard against the use of technology through market logic where people become brands and all things spiritual become commoditized."
Oracle

Oracle Charged $293M In South Korean Back Taxes (thestack.com) 19

An anonymous reader quotes The Stack: Multinational tech giant Oracle has been charged $293 million USD for corporate tax evasion in South Korea. The $293 million charge is made up of back taxes, as well as a punitive charge from the government tax agency. The company was originally notified of the tax debt in January of last year, when the National Tax Service charged Oracle with evasion of corporate tax payments on 2 trillion won in earnings from 2008-2014.

Oracle was accused of funneling revenues to Ireland to avoid paying taxes in South Korea. In an audit of the company's books, the tax authority found that Oracle had channeled profits generated in South Korea to an Irish subsidiary; however, it was found that those funds ultimately profited the company's headquarters in the United States. Because of this, the NTS determined that Oracle should have paid taxes on profits generated in South Korea to the South Korean government.

Businesses

Embarrassing Ex-Employee Complaint Against Snapchat Unsealed (variety.com) 85

"Saying it had 'nothing to hide,' the company behind Snapchat released an unredacted version of a lawsuit filed against it by a former employee that claims investors and advertisers were misled about usage data." And one allegation -- about a meeting with the company's 25-year-old CEO about flawed user metrics and low adoption in India in Spain -- is particularly embarrassing. Pompliano, who had just been hired away from Facebook, contends that he presented methods to address the issue, but that Evan Spiegel, the company's CEO, abruptly cut him off. "This app is only for rich people," Spiegel said, according to Pompliano. "I don't want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain"... Pompliano claims that Spiegel then met with two other executives and determined that "Mr. Pompliano presented a risk to Snapchat's IPO."
It may have been a flip remark, but the lawsuit also alleges two data analysts confided to Pompliano that Snapchat had "an institutional aversion to looking at user data," where its efforts showed "utter incompetence". The former employee -- who was fired after three weeks -- alleges that Snapchat inflated the rate of completed registrations and the number of users who stayed longer than seven days.

Snap originally said the lawsuit should remain redacted because it contained damaging trade secrets that would help its competitors, but now Snap attorneys are accusing Pompliano and his attorneys of "just making things up... The simple fact is that he knows exactly nothing about Snap's current metrics." Variety reports that Pompliano's attorney "said that Snap withdrew its effort to seal the complaint because the company knew it would lose."
Programming

Researchers Determine What Makes Software Developers Unhappy (vice.com) 149

Researchers recently surveyed 2,200 software developers to calculate the distribution of unhappiness throughout the profession, and to identify its top causes, "incorporating a psychometrically validated instrument for measuring (un)happiness." An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Daniel Graziotin and his team found their survey subjects via GitHub. Contact information was found by mining archived data for past public GitHub events, where email addresses are apparently more plentiful. They wound up with 33,200 records containing developer locations, contact information, and employers. They took a random sampling from this dataset and wound up with about 1,300 valid survey responses... According to survey results released earlier this month, software developers are on average a "slightly happy" group of workers...

Survey responses were scored according to the SPANE-B metric, a standard tool used in psychology to assess "affect," defined as total negative feelings subtracted from total positive feelings. It ranges from -24 to 24. The mean score found in the developer happiness survey was 9.05. Slightly happy. The minimum was -16, while the maximum was 24. So, even in the worst cases, employees weren't totally miserable, whereas in the best cases employees weren't miserable at all.

The paper -- titled "On the Unhappiness of Software Developers" -- found that the top cause of unhappiness was being stuck while solving a problem, followed by "time pressure," bad code quality/coding practices, and "under-performing colleague."

And since happiness has been linked to productivity, the researchers write that "Our results, which are available as open data, can act as guidelines for practitioners in management positions and developers in general for fostering happiness on the job...unhappiness is present, caused by various factors and some of them could easily be prevented."

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