United States

Net Neutrality Rollback Faces New Criticism From US Congress -- And 16 Million Comments (techcrunch.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch's newest update on the FCC's attempt to gut net neutrality protections: 10 Representatives who helped craft the law governing the FCC itself have submitted an official comment on the proposal ruthlessly dismantling it... The FCC is well within its rights to interpret the law, and it doesn't have to listen to contrary comments from the likes of you and me. It does, however, have to listen to Congress -- "congressional intent" is a huge factor in determining whether an interpretation of the law is reasonable. And in the comment they've just filed, Representatives Pallon, Doyle et al. make it very clear that their intent was and remains very different from how the FCC has chosen to represent it.

"The law directs the FCC to look at ISP services as distinct from those services that ride over the networks. The FCC's proposal contravenes our intent... While some may argue that this distinction should be abandoned because of changes in today's market, that choice is not the FCC's to make. The decision remains squarely with those of us in Congress -- and we have repeatedly chosen to leave the law as it is."

In another letter Thursday, 15 Congressmen asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to extend the time period for comments. They note the proposed changes have received more than 16 million comments, more than four times the number of comments on any previous FCC item. The Hill reports that the previous record was 4 million comments -- during the FCC's last net neutrality proceeding in 2014 -- and "the lawmakers also noted that the comment period for approving net neutrality in 2014 was 60 days. Pai has only allowed a 30-day comment period for his plan to rollback the rules."
The Military

A US Spy Plane Has Been Flying Circles Over Seattle For Days (thedrive.com) 232

turkeydance shares Thursday's report from The Drive: A very unique U.S. Air Force surveillance aircraft has been flying highly defined circles over Seattle and its various suburbs for nine days now... The aircraft, which goes by the callsign "SPUD21" and wears a nondescript flat gray paint job with the only visible markings being a U.S. Air Force serial on its tail, is a CASA CN-235-300 transport aircraft that has been extensively modified... It is covered in a dizzying array of blisters, protrusions, humps and bumps. These include missile approach warning detectors and large fairings on its empennage for buckets of forward-firing decoy flares, as well as both microwave -- the dome antenna behind the wing and flat antenna modification in front of the wing -- and ultra high-frequency satellite communications -- the platter-like antenna behind the dome antenna. A communications intelligence suite also appears to be installed on the aircraft, with the antenna farm on the bottom of its fuselage being a clear indication of such a capability. But what's most interesting is the aircraft's apparent visual intelligence gathering installation...

This particular CN-235, with the serial 96-6042, is one of six that researchers commonly associated with the Air Force's top secret 427th Special Operations Squadron... The 427th occupies the same space with a host of other "black" U.S. military aviation elements, most of which are affiliated to some degree with Joint Special Operations Command and the Intelligence Community... [I]f the military placed the aircraft under civilian control to some degree and with an appropriate legal justification, the U.S. military could possibly fly it in support of a domestic operation or one focused on a foreign suspect or organization operating within the United States... It's also entirely possible, if not probable, that the aircraft could be involved in a realistic training exercise rather than an actual operation... The area could have simply provided a suitable urban area to test existing or new surveillance technologies, too, though this could spark serious privacy concerns if true.

Friday an Air Force Special Operations Command public affairs officer confirmed that the plane was one of theirs, describing its activity as "just a training mission," according to Russia Today.
Power

New Catalyst Is Better At Splitting Water Into Hydrogen And Oxygen (phys.org) 133

schwit1 shared an article from Phys.org: Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce clean energy can be simplified with a single catalyst developed by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston. The electrolytic film produced at Rice and tested at Houston is a three-layer structure of nickel, graphene and a compound of iron, manganese and phosphorus. The foamy nickel gives the film a large surface, the conductive graphene protects the nickel from degrading and the metal phosphide carries out the reaction... Rice chemist Kenton Whitmire and Houston electrical and computer engineer Jiming Bao and their labs developed the film to overcome barriers that usually make a catalyst good for producing either oxygen or hydrogen, but not both simultaneously... Whitmire said the material is scalable and should find use in industries that produce hydrogen and oxygen or by solar- and wind-powered facilities that can use electrocatalysis to store off-peak energy.
In a comment on the original submission, Slashdot reader Martin S. opines, "If we can crack H20 and C02 we could make fuel to run existing vehicles with existing infrastructure and that fuel could be carbon neutral by using off peak renewable energy from wind farms and solar."
Microsoft

High School Students Compete In 'Microsoft Office Championship' (latimes.com) 103

An anonymous reader writes: This week the L.A. Times described a 17-year-old from Virginia who'd spent several hours a day perfecting his technique in Microsoft Excel, "one of 150 students from 50 countries competing in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship" at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "At stake: cash, prizes and the clout that comes with being the best in the world at Excel, PowerPoint or Word. 'I'm going to do my best to bring it home for the United States,' John said as he prepared for the competition."

Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education said the event helps students "to become more employable to companies that build their businesses around the Microsoft suite." For example, the article points out, "Past winners have gone on to attend Ivy League colleges and even work at, yes, Microsoft... Delaware resident Anirudh Narayanan, 17, prepared all summer to compete in the Excel 2013 category, 'looking up obscure facts just in case I might need to know it during the test.' He's hoping the skills he honed will help him at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will begin studying economics in the fall. 'I make sure I do a minimum of five hours a week in Excel,' Anirudh said. 'Then for a while I'll be on YouTube watching videos about Excel.'"

John eventually won the first-place prize in the Excel category -- which was $7,000 and an Xbox.
NASA

Celebrate Voyager's 40th Anniversary By Beaming A Message Into Outer Space (nytimes.com) 83

Long-time Slashdot reader Noryungi writes: NASA will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launch of the twin Voyager probes next month. So let us celebrate both the probes and the people who are still working on them, and nursing them in their final years.
The New York Times fondly profiles Voyager's nine aging flight-team engineers who "may be the last people left on the planet who can operate the spacecraft's onboard computers, which have 235,000 times less memory and 175,000 times less speed than a 16-gigabyte smartphone." NASA reports that now "Voyager 1 is in 'Interstellar space' and Voyager 2 is currently in the 'Heliosheath' -- the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. " But the Times notes that the probes "are running out of fuel. (Decaying plutonium supplies their power.) By 2030 at the latest, they will not have enough juice left to run a single experiment."

NASA is now inviting the public to submit positive messages to be considered for beaming into space on September 5th -- the 40th anniversary of Voyager 1's launch. "Messages can have a maximum of 60 characters and be posted on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ or Tumblr using the hashtag #MessageToVoyager," until August 15th, after which humanity will vote on which message should be sent.
Google

Google Engineer's Leaked 'Gender Diversity' Essay Draws Massive Response (medium.com) 1122

An anonymous reader writes: An engineer at Google's Mountain View headquarters circulated a 3,400-word essay internally that argued a "moral bias" exists at Google that's "shaming dissenters" and silencing their voices against "encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies." It attributes the gender gap in technology to biology-based differences in abilities (such as "speaking up" and "leading") and different personality traits (including "neuroticism"). Its suggested remedies include "Stop alienating conservatives" (calling it "non-inclusive" and "bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness"), and it also suggests as a solution to "de-emphasize empathy" (which "causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases").

As the essay leaked over the weekend, former Google engineer Yonatan Zunger identified its anonymous author as "not someone senior," saying the author didn't seem to understand gender -- or engineering -- or what's going to happen next. "Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I'm very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to... It's true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people's emotional needs and so on -- this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones... You need to learn the difference between 'I think we should adopt Go as our primary language' and 'I think one-third of my colleagues are either biologically unsuited to do their jobs, or if not are exceptions and should be suspected of such until they can prove otherwise to each and every person's satisfaction.'"

The leaked internal essay is now being discussed in literally dozens of news outlets. Click through for some official responses, including leaked reactions from Google's VP of Engineering, from Google's new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance -- and from Slashdot's readers.
Government

'Elon Musk's Hyperloop Is Doomed For the Worst Reason' (bloomberg.com) 304

schwit1 quotes a Bloomberg column by Virginia Postrel: What makes Musk's Hyperloop plan seem like fantasy isn't the high-tech part. Shooting passengers along at more than 700 miles per hour seems simple -- engineers pushed 200 miles-per-hour in a test this week -- compared to building a tunnel from New York to Washington. And even digging that enormously long tunnel -- twice as long as the longest currently in existence -- seems straightforward compared to navigating the necessary regulatory approvals... The eye-rolling comes less from the technical challenges than from the bureaucratic ones.

With his premature declaration, Musk is doing public debate a favor. He's reminding us of what the barriers to ambitious projects really are: not technology, not even money, but getting permission to try. "Permits harder than technology," Musk tweeted after talking with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti about building a tunnel network. That's true for the public sector as well as the private... SpaceX and its commercial-spaceflight competitors can experiment because Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to protect them from Federal Aviation Administration standards. usk is betting that his salesmanship will have a similar effect on the ground. He's trying to get the public so excited that the political pressures to allow the Hyperloop to go forward become irresistible. He seems to believe that he can will the permission into being. If he succeeds, he'll upend not merely intercity transit but the bureaucratic process by which things get built. That would be a true science-fiction scenario.

Security

Should the Internet Be Secure By Default? (esecurityplanet.com) 154

darthcamaro writes: There are lots of tools and different secure protocols that could be used by internet service providers to embed security into the fabric of the internet, making the internet secure by default, but that's not something that Facebook's Chief Security Officer, Alex Stamos wants to happen. Instead of security by default, his view is that carriers should be neutral and let malicious traffic do whatever it wants.

"I believe strongly in the end-to-end principle, I think we should have neutral carriers in the middle and it should not be the responsibility of ISPs to secure the internet," Stamos said in a press conference at the Black Hat USA conference last week.

Slashdot reader Darth Technoid disagrees, calling a lack of security "the Original Sin of the Internet," and speculating that Vint Cerf and Bob Metcalfe "thought that future technology would resolve the issues." What do other Slashdot readers think?

Should the internet be secure by default?
The Courts

Who's Profiting From The WannaCry Ransoms? (cnn.com) 31

CNN reports: For months, the ransom money from the massive WannaCry cyberattack sat untouched in online accounts. Now, someone has moved it. More than $140,000 worth of digital currency bitcoin has been drained from three accounts linked to the ransomware virus that hit hundreds of thousands of computers around the world in May.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian law firm wants NotPetya victims to join a collective lawsuit against Intellect-Service LLC, the company behind the M.E.Doc accounting software, said to be the point of origin of the NotPetya ransomware outbreak. An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: The NotPetya ransomware spread via a trojanized M.E.Doc update, according to Microsoft, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Cisco, ESET, and Ukrainian Cyber Police. A subsequent investigation revealed that Intellect-Service had grossly mismanaged the hacked servers, which were left without updates since 2013 and were backdoored on three different occasions... The Juscutum Attorneys Association says that on Tuesday, Ukrainian Cyber Police confirmed that M.E.Doc servers were backdoor on three different occasions in an official document. The company is now using this document as the primary driving force behind its legal action.
The law firm says victims must pay all of the court fees -- and give them 30% of any awarded damages.
Censorship

Syrian Open Source Developer Bassel Khartabil Believed Executed (www.cbc.ca) 150

TheSync writes: The Syrian open source developer, blogger, entrepreneur, hackerspace founder, and free culture advocate Bassell Khartabil was swept up in a wave of military arrests in March 2012. A CBC report states that his wife wrote on Facebook late Tuesday that she has received confirmation that security services executed Khartabil in October 2015 after torturing him in prison. Before his arrest, his most recent work included a 3D virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria.
At the time of his arrest, Khartabi was 30 years old -- after which he started a blog called "MeInSyrianJail" and a Twitter account called "Live from my cell." Though he spent the last three and half years of his life in prison, he once tweeted that "Jail is not walls, not the executioner and guards. It is the hidden fear in our hearts that makes us prisoners." The latest tweet on his feed says "Rest in power our friend."

Thursday the Creative Commons nonprofit described the developer as "our friend and colleague," and announced the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund, "which will support projects in the spirit of Bassel's work."
Businesses

It's the 40th Anniversary of Radio Shack's TRS-80 (smithsonianmag.com) 301

An anonymous reader quotes Smithsonsian: It was with minimal expectations that, on August 3, 1977, Tandy Corporation teamed up with Radio Shack to release the TRS-80, one of the first personal computers available to consumer markets. While Don French -- a buyer for the Tandy Radio Shack consumer electronic chain -- had convinced some Tandy executives of the need to release a personal computer, most felt it was unlikely to gross substantial profits. This bulky item with complex operating procedures would never sell, they thought, more than 1,000 units in its first month... As it turned out, the TRS-80 surpassed even the most cautious sales estimates by tenfold within its first month on the market; the burgeoning prospects of a new era in personal electronics and computing could no longer be denied.
It had no hard drive and four kilobytes of memory, according to the article. Radio Shack's $600 PC was preceded by the MITS Altair, as well as PCs from both Apple and IBM, but "the TRS-80 was one of the first products that came fully assembled and ready to use, bridging the gap in accessibility between hobbyists -- who took interest in the actual building of the computer -- and the average American consumer, who wanted to know what this new, cutting-edge technology had in store for them."

Does this bring back any memories for anyone?
Power

Startup Unveils Revolutionary New Rechargeable Alkaline Batteries (nytimes.com) 137

Slashdot reader cdreimer quotes the New York Times: Alkaline batteries can be made far more cheaply and safely than today's lithium-ion batteries, but they are not rechargeable... Ionic Materials could change that equation with an alkaline battery the company said could be recharged hundreds of times. One additional benefit of the company's breakthrough: An alkaline battery would not be as prone to the combustion issues that have plagued lithium-ion batteries in a range of products, most notably some Samsung smartphones. Cheaper and more powerful batteries are also considered by many to be the driver needed to make the cost of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar competitive with the coal, gas and nuclear power that support the national energy grid.
The company "has demonstrated up to 400 recharge cycles for its prototypes," and it's now even investigating aluminum-based alkaline batteries which would also be lighter than lithium-ion batteries. The company is backed by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, who also envisions the batteries being used in electric cars.
Star Wars Prequels

Warner Music Files Copyright Claim on A Silent 'Star Wars' Video On YouTube (wired.com) 73

rgh02 writes: Earlier this summer, popular YouTube channel Auralnauts received some unfortunate news: Warner/Chappell had filed a monetization claim on their "Star Wars Minus Williams" video through YouTube's Content ID System. More than anything, the Auralnauts were confused -- the video the music company was claiming rights over didn't have any music in it at all.
In fact, the video is almost entirely silent, augmented with a few awkward coughs as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker plod noiselessly toward Princess Leia in a two-minute scene where they're awarded ceremonial medallions. Wired's article describes it as "a tongue-in-cheek tribute" to John Williams' Star Wars score for the film's final scene, also reporting that it had been online for almost three years before Warner/Chappell music publishing claimed rights to all money the video would receive: When I tried to get Warner/Chappell's side of this story, the company offered no comment. But apparently my reporting helped bring the "Star Wars Minus Williams" copyright dispute to an unexpectedly speedy resolution. When Koonce told his YouTube partner manager that a journalist had interviewed him, YouTube stepped in and removed the copyright claim against the video.
YouTube has also created a "Fair Use Protection" program covering legal costs for channels they believe are unfairly targeted with video takedown notices. But the article points out that 95% of the time music companies just chose YouTube's "monetize" option to claim the ad revenue rather than asking that a video be blocked -- and that last year YouTube paid the music industry $1 billion. (Though the music industry insists that amount is still below what they're receiving from streaming music services.)
Chrome

Browser Extensions Are Undermining Privacy (vortex.com) 82

pizzutz writes: Chrome's popular Web Developer plugin was briefly hijacked on Wednesday when an attacker gained control of the author's Google account and released a new version (0.49) which injected ads into web pages of more than a million users who downloaded the update. The version was quickly replaced with an uncompromised version (0.5) and all users are urged to update immediately.
Lauren Weinstein has a broader warning: While the browser firms work extensively to build top-notch security and privacy controls into the browsers themselves, the unfortunate fact is that these can be undermined by add-ons, some of which are downright crooked, many more of which are sloppily written and poorly maintained. Ironically, some of these add-on extensions and apps claim to be providing more security, while actually undermining the intrinsic security of the browsers themselves. Others (and this is an extremely common scenario) claim to be providing additional search or shopping functionalities, while actually only existing to silently collect and sell user browsing activity data of all sorts.
Lauren also warns about sites that "push users very hard to install these privacy-invasive, data sucking extensions" -- and believes requests for permissions aren't a sufficient safeguard for most users. "Expecting them to really understand what these permissions mean is ludicrous. We're the software engineers and computer scientists -- most users aren't either of these. They have busy lives -- they expect our stuff to just work, and not to screw them over."

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