Microsoft

Microsoft Blamed Intel For Its Own Bad Surface Drivers (thurrott.com) 169

Paul Thurrott reveals a new internal Microsoft memo from corporate vice president Panos Panay which acknowledges "some quality issues" with their launch of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. But an anonymous reader quotes a darker story from Thurrott.com: Multiple senior Microsoft officials told me at the time that the issues were all Intel's fault, and that the microprocessor giant had delivered its buggiest-ever product in the "Skylake" generation chipsets. Microsoft, first out of the gate with Skylake chips, thus got caught up by this unreliability, leading to a falling out with Intel... Since then, however, another trusted source at Microsoft has provided me with a different take on this story. Microsoft, I'm told, fabricated the story about Intel being at fault.

The real problem was Surface-specific custom drivers and settings that the Microsoft hardware team cooked up. The Skylake fiasco came to a head internally when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Lenovo last year and asked the firm, then the world's biggest maker of PCs, how it was dealing with the Skylake reliability issues. Lenovo was confused. No one was having any issues, he was told. I assume this led to some interesting conversations between the members of the Microsoft senior leadership team. But the net result was that Microsoft had to push out some existing designs quickly to get ahead of the reliability issues.

The Surface Book ultimately had a 17% return rate after its late-2015 launch, while the Surface Pro 4's return rate was 16%. So though Microsoft later pushed to improve subsequent releases, Panay's memo claims that "These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey." The memo also reiterates high customer-satisfaction metrics, which Thurrott says "supports the contention that I made two days ago... Customers who spend more on premium products tend to be more satisfied even when they are unreliable because they need to justify their own decision-making process."

"He also suggests that what Consumer Reports calls a 'failure' is perhaps overly-broad and that some incidents -- like a frozen screen or unresponsive touch -- are not 'failures' but are rather just minor incidents that are easily rectified by the user."
Firefox

'See the Future Firefox Right Now' (cnet.com) 293

"Mozilla is prepping a new version of Firefox in an effort to rally in the race for browser supremacy," writes CNET's Matt Elliott, who decided to test drive a new nightly build of Firefox 57 which "promises fast speeds and a new look." An anonymous reader quotes their report: Firefox 57 has added a screenshot button in the top-right corner... It highlights different elements on a page as you mouse over them, or you can just click-and-drag the old-school way to take a screenshot of a portion of a page. Screenshots are saved within Firefox. Click the scissors button and then click the little My Shots window to open a new tab of all of your saved screenshots. From here you can download them or share them... The bookmark and Pocket buttons have been moved from the right of the URL bar to inside it, but the Page Actions button is new. Click it and you'll get a small menu to Copy URL, Email Link and Send to Device. The Page Actions menu also has bookmark and Pocket buttons, which seems redundant at first but then I realized you can remove those items from the URL bar by right-clicking them. You can't remove the new, triple-dot Page Actions button...

As with any prerelease software, Firefox Nightly 57 is meant for developers and will likely exhibit strange and unstable behavior from time to time. Also, there is no guarantee that the final release will look like what you see in the current version of Nightly. For example, I have read reports that the search box next to Firefox's URL bar may be on the chopping block. It's part of the design of the current Nightly build but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets dropped between now and November since most web users have grown accustomed to entering their search queries right in the URL bar. Just as you can with the current version of Firefox, however, you can customize which elements are displayed at the top of Firefox Nightly 57, including the search box.

AI

Why AI Won't Take Over The Earth (ssrn.com) 298

Law professor Ryan Calo -- sometimes called a robot-law scholar -- hosted the first White House workshop on AI policy, and has organized AI workshops for the National Science Foundation (as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the National Academy of Sciences). Now an anonymous reader shares a new 30-page essay where Calo "explains what policymakers should be worried about with respect to artificial intelligence. Includes a takedown of doomsayers like Musk and Gates." Professor Calo summarizes his sense of the current consensus on many issues, including the dangers of an existential threat from superintelligent AI:

Claims of a pending AI apocalypse come almost exclusively from the ranks of individuals such as Musk, Hawking, and Bostrom who possess no formal training in the field... A number of prominent voices in artificial intelligence have convincingly challenged Superintelligence's thesis along several lines. First, they argue that there is simply no path toward machine intelligence that rivals our own across all contexts or domains... even if we were able eventually to create a superintelligence, there is no reason to believe it would be bent on world domination, unless this were for some reason programmed into the system. As Yann LeCun, deep learning pioneer and head of AI at Facebook colorfully puts it, computers don't have testosterone.... At best, investment in the study of AI's existential threat diverts millions of dollars (and billions of neurons) away from research on serious questions... "The problem is not that artificial intelligence will get too smart and take over the world," computer scientist Pedro Domingos writes, "the problem is that it's too stupid and already has."
A footnote also finds a paradox in the arguments of Nick Bostrom, who has warned of that dangers superintelligent AI -- but also of the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation. "If AI kills everyone in the future, then we cannot be living in a computer simulation created by our decedents. And if we are living in a computer simulation created by our decedents, then AI didn't kill everyone. I think it a fair deduction that Professor Bostrom is wrong about something."
Businesses

Some Retailers Criticize Amazon's Recall of Eclipse Glasses (kgw.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes Portland TV station KGW: Amazon issued a widespread recall for solar eclipse glasses early Saturday morning, one week before the August 21 eclipse. That move stunned some sellers who say their glasses are verified safe.... "We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse," Amazon wrote... "Out of an abundance of caution, we have proactively reached out to customers and provided refunds for eclipse glasses that may not comply with industry standards." At least a dozen KGW viewers said they received recall notices from Amazon Saturday... KGW viewer Heather Andersen said she bought two separate sets of solar glasses and learned both were not verified. "I give up," she tweeted...

Manish Panjwani's Los Angeles-based astronomy product business, AgenaAstro, has sold three times its average monthly revenue in the past month. Ninety-five percent is related to the solar eclipse... Panjwani's eclipse glasses come from two NASA-approved sellers: Thousand Oaks Optical in Arizona and Baader Planetarium in Germany. He said he provided documentation to Amazon proving the products' authenticity weeks ago, with no response from Amazon. On Saturday morning, he woke up to 100 emails from customers after Amazon issued a recall for his products. "People have some of the best glasses in the world in their hands right now and they don't believe in that product," he said. "They're out there looking for something inferior." Panjwani said Amazon is temporarily retaining some of his profits because of the recall. He also has almost 5,000 glasses at an Amazon warehouse, which customers can no longer purchase. "That's just sitting there. I cannot sell it and I cannot get it back in time for the eclipse," he said.

Space

Astrophysicist Believes Technologically-Advanced Species Extinguish Themselves (sciencedaily.com) 435

Why haven't we heard from intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? wisebabo writes: In the Science Daily article "Where is everybody? The Implications of Cosmic Silence," the retired astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire explains that using the principle of mediocracy (a statistical notion that says, in the absence of more data, that your one data point is likely to be "average"), that not only are we the first intelligent life on earth but that we will likely be the only (and thus the last) intelligent life on this planet... Unfortunately that isn't the worst of it.

Coupled with the "Great Silence", it implies that the reason we haven't heard from anyone is that intelligent life, when it happens anywhere else in the universe, doesn't last and when it does it flames out quickly and takes the biosphere with it (preventing any other intelligent life from reappearing. Sorry dolphins!). While this is depressing in a very deep sense both cosmically (no Star Trek/Wars/Valerian universes filled with alien civilizations) and locally (we're going to wipe ourselves out, and soon) it is perhaps understandable given our current progress towards reproducing the conditions of the greatest extinction event in earth's history.

That last link (reprinting a New York Times opinion piece) cites the "Great Dying" of 90% of all land-based life in 252 million B.C., which is believed to have been triggered by "gigantic emissions of carbon dioxide from volcanoes that erupted across a vast swath of Siberia." But if we're not headed to the same inexorable doom, that raises an inevitable follow-up question.

If intelligence-driven extinction doesn't explain this great cosmic silence, then what does? Why hasn't our species heard from other intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the universe?
Programming

New 'Asciidots' Programming Language Uses Ascii Art (And Python) (github.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: If the esoteric programming language Asciidots looks like a mess, it is at least a very different-looking and even aesthetically pleasing mess. Simply, its mechanics and syntax are based on Ascii art... Asciidots is a unique sort of programming language known as a dataflow language. In this sort of language, we can imagine units of data (like our variable x) following a data go-kart track that's interrupted in different places with pit stops that change the value of the data go-kart that's following the track around. One pit stop might add 1 to the variable, while another might chop it in half. At some points, the track might even split, with the data go-kart picking one fork depending on its current value. If, say, it's greater than 2 it might go left; otherwise, it goes right...

In Asciidots, the aforementioned go-kart track is represented by lines (|,-,/,\)... Most of the other non-line symbols are mathematical operators, but there are also symbols that direct the program to request input from the user, set values, print values, and change the direction of the unit of data... Under the hood, Asciidots is a Python program. An Asciidots program is just fed into that underlying program and digested into normal Python code, which is then executed.

The article includes some examples, and argues that esoteric esolangs like Asciidots force programmers to consider fresh perspectives. And in addition, "it looks really cool."
ISS

SpaceX Will Deliver The First Supercomputer To The ISS (hpe.com) 98

Slashdot reader #16,185, Esther Schindler writes: "By NASA's rules, not just any computer can go into space. Their components must be radiation hardened, especially the CPUs," reports HPE Insights. "Otherwise, they tend to fail due to the effects of ionizing radiation. The customized processors undergo years of design work and then more years of testing before they are certified for spaceflight." As a result, the ISS runs the station using two sets of three Command and Control Multiplexer DeMultiplexer computers whose processors are 20MHz Intel 80386SX CPUs, right out of 1988. "The traditional way to radiation-harden a spacecraft computer is to add redundancy to its circuits or by using insulating substrates instead of the usual semiconductor wafers on chips. That's expensive and time consuming. HPE scientists believe that simply slowing down a system in adverse conditions can avoid glitches and keep the computer running."

So, assuming the August 15 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch goes well, there will be a supercomputer headed into space -- using off-the-shelf hardware. Let's see if the idea pans out. "We may discover a set of parameters with which a supercomputer can successfully run for at least a year without errors," says Dr. Mark R. Fernandez, the mission's co-principal investigator for software and SGI's HPC technology officer. "Alternately, one or more components of the system will fail, in which case we will then do the typical failure analysis on Earth. That will let us learn what to change to make the systems more reliable in the future."

The article points out that the New Horizons spacecraft that just flew past Pluto has a 12MHz Mongoose-V CPU, based on the MIPS R3000 CPU. "You may remember its much faster ancestor: the chip that took you on adventures in the original Sony PlayStation, circa 1994."
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Just Surged Past $4,000. TechCrunch Explains Why (techcrunch.com) 154

Saturday night TechCrunch reported the following about Bitcoin: 24 hours ago the cryptocurrency was trading below $3,700. About an hour ago it surged passed $4,000 and has no signs of stopping. It's now trading around $4,135.00. For reference, a week ago Bitcoin hit an all-time high as it passed $3,000 for the first time... So the million-bitcoin question is, why now...?

Two weeks ago Bitcoin went through a hard fork, and came out essentially unscathed... A few days later Bitcoin locked in SegWit, a code modification that fixes malleability issues and frees up space in blocks, allowing for more transactions to be stored in each one. These two code-related developments have helped boost conference in Bitcoin's future. Another reason -- the ICO frenzy. The amount recently raised via initial coin offerings have now (at least temporally) topped amount raised via early stage venture capital. Just last week Filecoin raised $180 million in a few hours. Most investors have to convert fiat currency to bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to participate in ICOs, which could be driving up the price (and providing some investors with their first taste of bitcoin). Another reason -- Wall Street's new obsession is bitcoin.

PC Games (Games)

Can 'No Man's Sky' Redeem Itself With Its Third Free Update? (engadget.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget's new article on No Man's Sky: Developer Hello Games has gone some way to giving the people what they've wanted Friday with the third major update since the title's launch. "Atlas Rises" (aka update 1.3) adds the beginnings of real-time multiplayer to the space exploration game, though admittedly, "interaction with others is currently very limited." Thanks to the update, up to 16 players can now exist together in the same space. Fellow pilots will appear as floating blue orbs moving about the terrain, and proximity-based voice chat will allow players to plan their next jump together. That's pretty much it, but Hello Games calls it "an important first step into the world of synchronous co-op in No Man's Sky."

Meeting up with other explorers should be a bit easier with the new portal system, which allows players to travel between planets instantly, including to random worlds. Taking a leaf out of Stargate lore, activating a sequence of glyphs on portals can designate specific exit points. Hello Games hopes the community will band together to create something of a database of glyph sequences... There's 30 hours of new storyline gameplay and a new mission system that lets you pick up all kinds of different odd jobs from a forever-updating list. Star systems now are now graded with "wealth, economy and conflict levels," giving you more information on desirable destinations (depending on what you're after). There's a new class of ships, new exotic planet types and a new "interdimensional race" to contend with. Terrain editing is now possible provided you have the appropriate Multi-Tool enhancement, and crashed freighters on the surface of planets serve as new scavenging hotspots... to its credit, Hello Games continues to push massive, free updates for the title, such that the game is now very different to what it was initially.

The game has been heavily discounted to promote the update, and Saturday it became Amazon's #12 best-selling PS4 game -- and one of Steam's top 100 most-played games.
Bug

Hundreds Of Smart Locks Get Bricked By A Buggy Firmware Update (bleepingcomputer.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: On Tuesday, August 8, smart locks manufacturer LockState botched an over-the-air firmware update for its WiFi enabled [RemoteLock 6i] smart locks, causing the devices to lose connectivity to the vendor's servers and the ability to open doors for its users... The device costs $469 and is sold mainly to Airbnb hosts via an official partnership LockState has signed with the company. Hosts use the smart locks to configure custom access codes for each Airbnb renter without needing to give out a physical key to each one. The botched firmware bricked the device's smart code access mode. Physical keys continued to work. The botched firmware was a nuisance for private home owners, but it was a disaster for Airbnb hosts, who had to scramble to get customers physical keys so they could enter their rents.
The post includes tweets from angry lock owners, one complaining about a two-week wait for a replacement. The company is also offering to fix the defective units within "5-7 days," promising that "Every employee and resource at LockState is focused on resolving this for you as quickly as possible."
Bug

Deserialization Issues Also Affect .NET, Not Just Java (bleepingcomputer.com) 187

"The .NET ecosystem is affected by a similar flaw that has wreaked havoc among Java apps and developers in 2016," reports BleepingComputer. An anonymous reader writes: The issue at hand is in how some .NET libraries deserialize JSON or XML data, doing it in a total unsecured way, but also how developers handle deserialization operations when working with libraries that offer optional secure systems to prevent deserialized data from accessing and running certain methods automatically. The issue is similar to a flaw known as Mad Gadget (or Java Apocalypse) that came to light in 2015 and 2016. The flaw rocked the Java ecosystem in 2016, as it affected the Java Commons Collection and 70 other Java libraries, and was even used to compromise PayPal's servers.

Organizations such as Apache, Oracle, Cisco, Red Hat, Jenkins, VMWare, IBM, Intel, Adobe, HP, and SolarWinds , all issued security patches to fix their products. The Java deserialization flaw was so dangerous that Google engineers banded together in their free time to repair open-source Java libraries and limit the flaw's reach, patching over 2,600 projects. Now a similar issue was discovered in .NET. This research has been presented at the Black Hat and DEF CON security conferences. On page 5 [of this PDF], researchers included reviews for all the .NET and Java apps they analyzed, pointing out which ones are safe and how developers should use them to avoid deserialization attacks when working with JSON data.

Google

269 People Joined An Age Discrimination Class Action Suit Against Google (bizjournals.com) 178

Slashdot reader #9,119 BrookHarty writes: "269 people have joined a class-action lawsuit against Google claiming they were discriminated against in the workplace based on their age..." reports BizJournals. "The lawsuit originated in 2015 with plaintiff Robert Heath and was certified as a class-action in 2016." Google has stated it has implemented policies to stop age discrimination but still has an average employee age of 29.

In 2004 Larry Page fired Brian Reid nine days before IPO costing Reid 45 million in unvested stock options. Reid was fired for lack of "cultural fit". Reid has settled for an undisclosed amount.

Transportation

Amateur Drone Lands On British Air Carrier, Wired Reviews Anti-Drone Technology (bbc.com) 152

Long-time Slashdot reader mi quotes the BBC: The Ministry of Defence is reviewing security after a tiny drone landed on the deck of Britain's biggest warship. The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier was docked at Invergordon in the Highlands when an amateur photographer flew the drone close to the giant ship. When the aircraft sensed a high wind risk, it landed itself on the £3bn warship. The pilot told BBC Scotland: "I could have carried two kilos of Semtex and left it on the deck... I would say my mistake should open their eyes to a glaring gap in security."
Meanwhile, tastic007 shares Wired's footage of anti-drone products being tested (like net guns, air-to-air combat counter-drones, and drone net shotgun shells) -- part of the research presented at this year's DEFCON.
Music

Crowdfunding Campaign Seeks a Libre Recording of a Newly-Completed Bach Work (kickstarter.com) 87

Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: Robert Douglass's Kickstarter campaigns have resulted in free fan-funded open source recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations and the 48 pieces in his Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. "Even Richard Stallman found these recordings, and he promptly wrote an email encouraging us to drop the word 'Open' in favor of 'Free' or 'Libre'," Douglas tells BoingBoing (adding "when RMS writes you telling you to change the name of your music project, you change the name of your music project.")

Now Douglass is crowdfunding a libre recording of Bach's last masterpiece, 20 fugues developed from a single theme called "the Art of the Fugue". "He wanted to culminate in a final fugue that literally spells his name, B-A-C-H, in musical notation," remembers Douglass, but "unfortunately, Bach died before completing that work, and it has remained a musical mystery (and tragedy) for hundreds of years." Fortunately Kimiko Ishizaka completed the work in 2016, "based on the music that Bach left us... This new composition will also be released under a Creative Commons license as part of the new OpenScore.cc project... Kimiko is eminently grateful to her fans and supporters of free culture for allowing her to focus all of her energies on growing the public domain and bringing the music of J.S. Bach to a far broader audience than ever imagined."

They're also rewarding supporters with tickets to two live performances -- one at Carnegie Hall in New York City and one in Hamburg's new Elbphilharmonie.

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