Earth

Era of 'Biological Annihilation' Is Underway, Scientists Warn (theguardian.com) 359

Tatiana Schlossberg reports via The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternate source): From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a "global epidemic" and part of the "ongoing sixth mass extinction" caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena. Dr. Ceballos emphasized that he and his co-authors, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, both professors at Stanford University, are not alarmists, but are using scientific data to back up their assertions that significant population decline and possible mass extinction of species all over the world may be imminent, and that both have been underestimated by many other scientists. The study's authors looked at reductions in a species' range -- a result of factors like habitat degradation, pollution and climate change, among others -- and extrapolated from that how many populations have been lost or are in decline, a method that they said is used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They found that about 30 percent of all land vertebrates -- mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians -- are experiencing declines and local population losses. In most parts of the world, mammal populations are losing 70 percent of their members because of habitat loss.
Transportation

The Audi A8: First Production Car To Achieve Level 3 Autonomy (ieee.org) 375

schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum: The 2018 Audi A8, just unveiled in Barcelona, counts as the world's first production car to offer Level 3 autonomy. Level 3 means the driver needn't supervise things at all, so long as the car stays within guidelines. Here that involves driving no faster than 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), which is why Audi calls the feature AI Traffic Jam Pilot. Go ahead, Audi's saying, read your newspaper or just zone out while traffic creeps along. To be sure, the A8 also monitors the driver, even while the traffic jam persists, and continues to do so as the speed edges up over the limit. If the driver falls asleep, it'll wake him up; if it can't get his attention, it will stop the car. If you want to buy the new A8, you'll have to check whether your jurisdiction will accept it as a Level 3 car. Audi said in a statement that it will follow "a step-by-step approach" to introducing the traffic jam pilot. It plans to sell the base model in Europe this fall for 90,600 euros, or about $103,000, and to enter the United States market shortly afterwards. A model having a longer wheelbase will cost a few percent more.
Privacy

Amazon May Give Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts (engadget.com) 166

According to The Information, Amazon may give developers access to your private Alexa audio recordings. Until now, Amazon has not given third-party developers access to what you say to the voice assistant, while Google has with its Google Home speaker. Engadget reports: So far, Alexa developers can only see non-identifying information, like the number of times you use a specific skill, how many times you talk to your Echo device and your location data. The Information reports that some developers have heard from Amazon representatives about more access to actual transcripts, though how and how much wasn't discovered. If developers knew what exactly is being said to their skills, they could make adjustments based on specific information.
United Kingdom

Radio Station Hijacked Eight Times In the Past Month To Play 'I'm a Wanker' Song (bleepingcomputer.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: An unknown hacker has hijacked the radio frequency of a UK radio station to play an obscene song eight times during the past month, according to the radio station's manager who recently revealed the hacks in an interview with BBC Radio 4. The hacks have been reported to Ofcom, the UK's communications regulator, who together with the radio station's staff have tried to track down the culprit at last three times, without success. Ofcom and radio station officials believe the hacker is using a mobile radio transmitter to broadcast a stronger signal on the radio station's normal frequency, overriding its normal program. In eight different occasions, the hacker has taken over broadcasts and has been heard talking, screaming, or singing, and then playing "The Winker's Song" (NSFW) by British comedian Ivor Biggun, a track about self-pleasure released in the 70s. Station manager Tony Delahunty told BBC Radio he received phone calls from distressed listeners complaining that their kids started humming the song. Fellow radio stations also called Delahunty to inquire about the hack, fearing similar hijacks.
Programming

Ask Slashdot: How Do You Read Code? 337

New submitter Gornkleschnitzer writes: The majority of humans read silently by rendering a simulation of the printed words as if they were being spoken. By reading that sentence, chances are you're now stuck being conscious of this, too. You're welcome.

As a programmer (and a reader of fanfiction), plenty of things I read are not valid English syntax. When I find myself reviewing class definitions, for loops, and #define macros, I rely on some interesting if inconsistent mental pronunciation rules. For instance, int i = 0; comes out as "int i equals zero," but if(i == 0) sometimes comes out as either "if i is zero" or "if i equals equals zero." The loop for(size_t i = 0; i < itemList.size(); ++i) generally translates to "for size T i equals zero, i less than item list dot size, plus-plus i." I seem to drop C++ insertion/extraction operators entirely in favor of a brief comma-like pause, with cout << str << endl; sounding like "kowt, stur, endel."

What are your code-reading quirks?
Transportation

Hyperloop One Conducts First Full Systems Test But Only Traveled 70MPH (jalopnik.com) 235

Thelasko shares a report from Jalopnik about Hyperloop One's first full systems Hyperloop test: In the test, Hyperloop says its vehicle traveled the first portion of a track using magnetic levitation in a vacuum environment, and reached 70 mph. It's a significant leap past the company's test a year ago, which sent a sled down a track for a grand total of two seconds. And while that's not the lighting-fast speed that Hyperloop Ones says its futurist transport system could go, the company says this test -- conducted privately on May 12 -- is only Phase 1. Hyperloop One's in the process of the next phase, now aiming for 250 mph. "By achieving full vacuum, we essentially invented our own sky in a tube, as if you're flying at 200,000 feet in the air," said Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Hyperloop One. "For the first time in over 100 years, a new mode of transportation has been introduced. Hyperloop is real, and it's here now."
AI

'World's First Robot Lawyer' Now Available In All 50 States (theverge.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: A chatbot that provides free legal counsel using AI is now available in all 50 states starting today. This is following its success in New York, Seattle, and the UK, where it was invented by British entrepreneur Joshua Browder. Browder, who calls his invention "the world's first robot lawyer," estimates the bot has helped defeat 375,000 parking tickets in a span of two years. Browder, a junior at Stanford University, tells The Verge via Twitter that his chatbot could potentially experience legal repercussions from the government, but he is more concerned with competing with lawyers.

"The legal industry is more than a 200 billion dollar industry, but I am excited to make the law free," says Browder. "Some of the biggest law firms can't be happy!" Browder believes that his chatbot could also save government officials time and money. "Everybody can win," he says, "I think governments waste a huge amount of money employing people to read parking ticket appeals. DoNotPay sends it to them in a clear and easy to read format."

Google

Google Spared $1.3 Billion Tax Bill With Victory In French Court (bloomberg.com) 56

New submitter Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg: Google won its fight against a 1.12 billion-euro ($1.3 billion) French tax bill after a court rejected claims the search-engine giant abused loopholes to avoid paying its fair share. Google didn't illegally dodge French taxes by routing sales in the country out of Ireland, the Paris administrative court decided Wednesday. Judges ruled that Google's European headquarters in Ireland can't be taxed as if it also has a permanent base in France, as requested by the nation's administration. "Google Ireland isn't taxable in France over the period 2005-2010," the court said in a statement. Google said in a statement: "The French Administrative Court of Paris has confirmed Google abides by French tax law and international standards. We remain committed to France and the growth of its digital economy."
Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg Hits the Road To Meet Regular Folks -- With a Few Conditions (foxbusiness.com) 254

Mark Zuckerberg is trying to understand America, so he's embarked on a journey to meet people like hockey moms and steelworkers who don't typically cross his path. But there are rules to abide by if you are an ordinary person about to meet an extraordinary entrepreneur. From a report: Rule One: You probably won't know Mr. Zuckerberg is coming. Rule Two: If you do know he's coming, keep it to yourself. Rule Three: Be careful what you reveal about the meeting. While the Facebook CEO has built a social network that inspired people around the world to share the most intimate details about their personal lives, his team goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his movements under wraps and control how he is perceived. Midway through a "personal challenge" to travel to 30 states he'd never visited, the 33-year old aims "to talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future," he wrote in January on his Facebook page. Among those people was Kyle McKasson, manager of the Wilton Candy Kitchen, a century-old shop on the town square in Wilton, Iowa. He was at work one Monday afternoon in June when two men and a woman dressed in jeans and button-down shirts entered the store, which is a regular stop on Iowa's presidential campaign circuit.
Piracy

Net Neutrality is Not a Pirates' Fight Anymore (torrentfreak.com) 89

Today millions of people are standing up for net neutrality and an open internet. The "Battle for the Net," backed by companies including Amazon, Google, and Netflix, hopes to stop a looming repeal of current net neutrality rules. While the whole debate was kickstarted ten years ago when torrent users couldn't download their favorite TV-shows, it's no longer a pirate's fight today, writes TorrentFreak: Historically, there is a strong link between net neutrality and online piracy. The throttling concerns were first brought to the forefront in 2007 when Comcast started to slow down both legal and unauthorized BitTorrent traffic, in an affort to ease the load on its network. When we uncovered this atypical practice, it ignited the first broad discussion on net neutrality. This became the setup for the FCC's Open Internet Order which was released three years later. For its part, the Open Internet Order formed the foundation of the net neutrality rules the FCC adopted in 2015. The big change compared to the earlier rules was that ISPs can be regulated as carriers under Title II. While pirates may have helped to get the ball rolling, they're no longer a player in the current net neutrality debate. Under the current rules, ISPs are allowed to block any unlawful traffic, including copyright infringing content. In fact, in the net neutrality order the FCC has listed the following rule: "Nothing in this part prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity." The FCC reasons that copyright infringement hurts the US economy, so Internet providers are free to take appropriate measures against this type of traffic. This includes the voluntary censoring of pirate sites, something the MPAA and RIAA are currently lobbying for. That gives ISPs plenty of leeway. ISPs could still block access to The Pirate Bay and other alleged pirate sites as a voluntary anti-piracy measure, for example. And throttling BitTorrent traffic across the board is also an option, as long as it's framed as reasonable network management. The worrying part is that ISPs themselves can decide what traffic or sites are unlawful. This could potentially lead to overblocking. Currently, there is no indication that any will, but the net neutrality rules do not preventing these companies from doing so.
Verizon

Millions of Verizon Customer Records Exposed in Security Lapse (zdnet.com) 44

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: An Israeli technology company has exposed millions of Verizon customer records, ZDNet has learned. As many as 14 million records of subscribers who called the phone giant's customer services in the past six months were found on an unprotected Amazon S3 storage server controlled by an employee of Nice Systems, a Ra'anana, Israel-based company. The data was downloadable by anyone with the easy-to-guess web address. Nice, which counts 85 of the Fortune 100 as customers, plays in two main enterprise software markets: customer engagement and financial crime and compliance including tools that prevent fraud and money laundering. Nice's 2016 revenue was $1.01 billion, up from $926.9 million in the previous year. The financial services sector is Nice's biggest industry in terms of customers, with telecom companies such as Verizon a key vertical. The company has more than 25,000 customers in about 150 countries.
Security

Symantec Explores Selling Web Certificates Business (reuters.com) 41

Cybersecurity firm Symantec is considering selling its website certification business, in a deal that could fetch more than $1 billion and extricate it from a feud with Alphabet's Google, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. From a report: Google said in March that it was investigating Symantec's failure to properly validate its certificates, which confirm that websites can be trusted. Symantec has called Google's claims "exaggerated and misleading." Symantec is in talks with a small number of companies and private equity firms about the potential sale, three sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential. There is no certainty that a deal will occur, the sources added.
China

Apple Sets Up China Data Center To Meet New Cybersecurity Rules (cnbc.com) 61

Apple on Wednesday said it is setting up its first data center in China, in partnership with a local internet services company, to comply with tougher cybersecurity laws introduced last month. From a report: The U.S. technology company said it will build the center in the southern province of Guizhou with data management firm Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry. An Apple spokesman in Shanghai told Reuters the center is part of a planned $1 billion investment into the province. "The addition of this data center will allow us to improve the speed and reliability of our products and services while also complying with newly passed regulations," Apple said in a statement to Reuters.
Science

Iceberg the Size of Delaware, Among Biggest Ever Recorded, Snaps Off Antarctica (marketwatch.com) 305

A giant iceberg about the size of Delaware that had been under scientists' watch has broken off from an ice shelf on the Antarctica Peninsula and is now adrift in the Weddell Sea. From a report: The 2,200 square-mile, trillion metric-ton section of the Larsen C ice shelf "calved" off sometime between Monday and Wednesday, a team of researchers at Swansea University's Project MIDAS has reported, citing imaging from NASA's Aqua MODIS satellite instrument. Scientists have tracked the crack for more than a decade and they warned in June that the section was "hanging by a thread." Its break, from Antarctica's fourth-largest ice shelf, changes the border shape of the peninsula forever even though the remaining ice shelf will continue to grow. "The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict," said professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project. "It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters."
Google

After Go, Developers Are Now Building AI To Beat Us at Soccer (cnet.com) 123

After Google's AlphaGo artificial intelligence bested our best Go player, South Korea is now setting its sights on making AI that can play soccer. From a report: Hosted by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), the AI World Cup will see university students across South Korea developing AI programs to compete in a series of online games, reported The Korea Times. The prelims will begin in November. "The football matches will be conducted in a five on five tournament," a KAIST spokesperson told the publication on Tuesday. "Each of the five AI-programmed players in such positions as striker, defender and goalkeeper will compete with their counterparts."
Security

Kaspersky Lab Says It Has Become Pawn in US-Russia Geopolitical Game (reuters.com) 172

Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab, reacting to a U.S. government move restricting its activities, said on Wednesday it had fallen victim to U.S.-Russia global sparring while the Kremlin criticized the U.S. action as politically-motivated. From a report: The Trump administration on Tuesday removed the Moscow-based firm from two lists of approved vendors used by government agencies to purchase technology equipment, amid concerns its products could be used by the Kremlin to gain entry into U.S. networks. "By all appearances, Kaspersky Lab happened to be dragged into a geopolitical fight where each side is trying to use the company as a pawn in its game," RIA news agency quoted the company's press service as saying.
Businesses

Tech Giants Rally Today in Support of Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 126

From a report: Technology giants like Amazon, Spotify, Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter and many others are rallying today in a so-called "day of action" in support of net neutrality, five days ahead of the first deadline for comments on the US Federal Communications Commission's planned rollback of the rules. In a move that's equal parts infuriating and exasperating, Ajit Pai, the FCC's new chairman appointed by President Trump, wants to scrap the open internet protections installed in 2015 under the Obama administration. Those consumer protections mean providers such as AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon are prevented from blocking or slowing down access to the web. Sites across the web will display alerts on their homepages showing "blocked," "upgrade," and "spinning wheel of death" pop-ups to demonstrate what the internet would look like without net neutrality, according to advocacy group Battle for the Net. But most of the pop-ups The Verge has seen have been simple banners or static text with links offering more information.
Education

Students Are Better Off Without a Laptop In the Classroom (scientificamerican.com) 247

Cindi May writes via Scientific American about new research that "suggests that laptops do not enhance classroom learning, and in fact students would be better off leaving their laptops in the dorm during class." From the report: Although computer use during class may create the illusion of enhanced engagement with course content, it more often reflects engagement with social media, YouTube videos, instant messaging, and other nonacademic content. This self-inflicted distraction comes at a cost, as students are spending up to one-third of valuable (and costly) class time zoned out, and the longer they are online the more their grades tend to suffer. To understand how students are using computers during class and the impact it has on learning, Susan Ravizza and colleagues took the unique approach of asking students to voluntarily login to a proxy server at the start of each class, with the understanding that their internet use (including the sites they visited) would be tracked. Participants were required to login for at least half of the 15 class periods, though they were not required to use the internet in any way once they logged in to the server. Researchers were able to track the internet use and academic performance of 84 students across the semester.

participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for nonacademic purposes, including social media, checking email, shopping, reading the news, chatting, watching videos, and playing games. This nonacademic use was negatively associated with final exam scores, such that students with higher use tended to score lower on the exam. Social media sites were the most-frequently visited sites during class, and importantly these sites, along with online video sites, proved to be the most disruptive with respect to academic outcomes. In contrast with their heavy nonacademic internet use, students spent less than 5 minutes on average using the internet for class-related purposes (e.g., accessing the syllabus, reviewing course-related slides or supplemental materials, searching for content related to the lecture). Given the relatively small amount of time students spent on academic internet use, it is not surprising that academic internet use was unrelated to course performance. Thus students who brought their laptops to class to view online course-related materials did not actually spend much time doing so, and furthermore showed no benefit of having access to those materials in class.

Science

Plants Can Turn Caterpillars Into Cannibals To Avoid Getting Eaten (nationalgeographic.com.au) 56

An anonymous reader quotes a report from National Geographic: A new study published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal found that when some plants are under attack from hungry herbivores, they emit defenses that make themselves incredibly foul-tasting to caterpillars, which spurs the caterpillars to eat each other. "Plants can defend themselves so much that they food-stress the herbivore, and then the herbivores determine that rather than have plants on their menu, they should have caterpillars at the top of their menu," said John Orrock, the author of the study and a researcher in the Department of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Orrock and his research team sprayed tomato plants with methyl jasmonate -- a substance plants produce in response to environmental stresses -- to trigger the plants' defense mechanisms. This chemical allowed the plant to change its chemistry, which made it less appetizing to the beet armyworm caterpillars that were placed on a treated plant. This phenomenon has been documented in a variety of plants, and research has suggested that plants can sense when surrounding plants are under attack, which can spur the production of methyl jasmonate in entire communities of plants.
Medicine

Coffee Cuts Risk of Dying From Stroke and Heart Disease, Study Suggests (theguardian.com) 165

Research suggests that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of dying from a host of causes, including heart disease, stroke and liver disease. "The connection, revealed in two large studies, was found to hold regardless of whether the coffee was caffeinated or not, with the higher among those who drank more cups of coffee a day," reports The Guardian. From the report: The first study looked at coffee consumption among more than 185,000 white and non-white participants, recruited in the early 1990s and followed up for an average of over 16 years. The results revealed that drinking one cup of coffee a day was linked to a 12% lower risk of death at any age, from any cause while those drinking two or three cups a day had an 18% lower risk, with the association not linked to ethnicity.

The second study -- the largest of its kind -- involved more than 450,000 participants, recruited between 1992 and 2000 across ten European countries, who were again followed for just over 16 years on average. After a range of factors including age, smoking status, physical activity and education were taken into account, those who drank three or more cups a day were found to have a 18% lower risk of death for men, and a 8% lower risk of death for women at any age, compared with those who didn't drink the brew. The benefits were found to hold regardless of the country, although coffee drinking was not linked to a lower risk of death for all types of cancer. The study also looked at a subset of 14,800 participants, finding that coffee-drinkers had better results on many biological markers including liver enzymes and glucose control. But experts warn that the two studies, both published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, do not show that drinking coffee was behind the overall lower risk, pointing out that it could be that coffee drinkers are healthier in various ways or that those who are unwell drink less coffee.

Slashdot Top Deals