Government

FDA Advisers Endorse Gene Therapy To Treat Form of Blindness (cbsnews.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: A panel of U.S. health advisers has endorsed an experimental approach to treating inherited blindness, setting the stage for the likely approval of an innovative new genetic medicine. A panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously in favor of Spark Therapeutics' injectable therapy, which aims to improve vision in patients with a rare mutation that gradually destroys normal vision. The vote amounts to a recommendation to approve the therapy. According to Spark Therapeutics' website, inherited retinal diseases are a group of rare blinding conditions caused by one of more than 220 genes. Some living with these diseases experience a gradual loss of vision, while others may be born without the ability to see or lose their vision in infancy or early childhood. Genetic testing is the only way to verify the exact gene mutation that is the underlying cause of the disease.
Google

Google Is Really Good At Design 187

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens. You could imagine them in your living room, your den, your bedroom. Your teleportation chamber. A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with. A VR headset in stunning pink. A phone with playful pops of color and an interface that seems to presage what you want, when you want it. It's weird. It's subtle. It's... good. It's Google? It's Google.

It was only a few years ago that Google was actually something of a laughing stock when it came to design. As an aggressively engineer-led company, the Mountain View behemoth's early efforts, particularly with its mobile software and devices, focused not on beauty, elegance, or simplicity, but rather concentrated on flexibility, iteration, and scale. These are useful priorities for a utilitarian search engine, but didn't translate well to many of the company's other products. Design -- the mysterious intersection of art and communication -- was a second-class citizen at Google, subordinate to The Data. That much was clear from the top down.

Enter Matias Duarte, the design impresario who was responsible for the Sidekick's UI (a wacky, yet strangely prescient mobile-everything concept) and later, the revolutionary (though ill-fated) webOS -- the striking mobile operating system and design language that would be Palm's final, valiant attempt at reclaiming the mobile market. Duarte was hired by Google in 2013 (initially as Android's User Experience Director, though he is now VP of design at the company), and spearheaded a complete reset of the company's visual and functional instincts. But even Duarte was aware of the design challenges his new role presented. "I never thought I'd work for Google," he told Surface Magazine in August. "I had zero ambition to work for Google. Everybody knew Google was a terrible place for design." Duarte went to work on a system that would ultimately be dubbed Material Design -- a set of principles that not only began to dictate how Android should look and work as a mobile operating system, but also triggered the march toward a unified system of design that slowly but surely pulled Google's disparate network of services into something that much more closely resembled a singular vision. A school of thought. A family.
Power

Driverless Cars Are Giving Engineers a Fuel Economy Headache (bloomberg.com) 208

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: Judging from General Motors' test cars and Elon Musk's predictions, the world is headed toward a future that's both driverless and all-electric. In reality, autonomy and battery power could end up being at odds. That's because self-driving technology is a huge power drain. Some of today's prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume two to four kilowatts of electricity -- the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars -- likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road -- will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone. A fully autonomous subcompact car like a Honda Fit, for example, will get 54.6 miles to the gallon in 2025 in the best-case scenario, more than 5 miles below the U.S. emissions target, according to BorgWarner. A small pickup or SUV would be at 45.8 mpg, versus a target of 50. Engineers don't have much time to resolve this, as companies are planning to deploy their first fully self-driving cars in the next couple of years. One way for automakers to meet the power-hungry needs of self-driving systems will be to use gasoline-electric hybrid models rather than purely electric cars, said Mary Gustanski, chief technology officer of supplier Delphi Automotive Plc's powertrain business.
Google

Alphabet's Waymo Demanded $1 Billion In Settlement Talks With Uber (reuters.com) 11

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Alphabet's Waymo sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company, sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters. The Waymo self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future, the sources said. Uber rejected those terms as non-starters, said the sources, who were not authorized to publicly discuss settlement talks. The precise dollar amount requested by Waymo and the exact time the offer was made could not be learned.

Waymo's tough negotiating stance, which has not been previously reported, reflects the company's confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case which may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars. The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership, said Elizabeth Rowe, a trade secret expert at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Google

Google Permanently Disables Touch Function On All Home Minis Due To Privacy Concerns (bbc.co.uk) 48

Big Hairy Ian shares a report from BBC: Google has stopped its Home Mini speakers responding when users touch them. It permanently turned off the touch activation feature after it found that sensors primed to spot a finger tap were too sensitive. Early users found that the touch sensors were registering "phantom" touches that turned them on. This meant the speakers were recording everything around them thousands of times a day. Google said it disabled the feature to give users "peace of mind." Google's Home Mini gadgets were unveiled on October 4th as part of a revamp of its line of smart speakers. The intelligent assistant feature on it could be activated two ways -- by either saying "OK, Google" or by tapping the surface. About 4,000 Google Home Mini units were distributed to early reviewers and those who attended Google's most recent launch event. Artem Russakovskii from Android Police first discovered the issue with his unit, ultimately causing Google to "permanently [nerf] all Home Minis" because his spied on everything he said 24/7.
Privacy

DJI Unveils Technology To Identify and Track Airborne Drones (suasnews.com) 61

garymortimer shares a report from sUAS News: DJI, the world's leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, has unveiled AeroScope, its new solution to identify and monitor airborne drones with existing technology that can address safety, security and privacy concerns. AeroScope uses the existing communications link between a drone and its remote controller to broadcast identification information such as a registration or serial number, as well as basic telemetry, including location, altitude, speed and direction. Police, security agencies, aviation authorities and other authorized parties can use an AeroScope receiver to monitor, analyze and act on that information. AeroScope has been installed at two international airports since April, and is continuing to test and evaluate its performance in other operational environments. AeroScope works with all current models of DJI drones, which analysts estimate comprise over two-thirds of the global civilian drone market. Since AeroScope transmits on a DJI drone's existing communications link, it does not require new on-board equipment or modifications, or require extra steps or costs to be incurred by drone operators. Other drone manufacturers can easily configure their existing and future drones to transmit identification information in the same way.
Businesses

Hyatt Hotels Discovers Card Data Breach At 41 Properties Across 11 Countries (krebsonsecurity.com) 20

Hyatt Hotels has suffered a second card data breach in two years. In the first breach, hackers had gained access to credit card systems at 250 properties in 50 different countries. This time, the breach appears to have impacted 41 properties across 11 countries. Krebs on Security reports: Hyatt said its cyber security team discovered signs of unauthorized access to payment card information from cards manually entered or swiped at the front desk of certain Hyatt-managed locations between March 18, 2017 and July 2, 2017. "Upon discovery, we launched a comprehensive investigation to understand what happened and how this occurred, which included engaging leading third-party experts, payment card networks and authorities," the company said in a statement. "Hyatt's layers of defense and other cybersecurity measures helped to identify and resolve the issue. While this incident affects a small percentage of total payment cards used at the affected hotels during the at-risk dates." The hotel chain said the incident affected payment card information -- cardholder name, card number, expiration date and internal verification code -- from cards manually entered or swiped at the front desk of certain Hyatt-managed locations. It added there is no indication that any other information was involved.
Security

US Weapons Data Stolen During Raid of Australian Defense Contractor's Computers (wsj.com) 78

phalse phace writes: Another day, another report of a major breach of sensitive U.S. military and intelligence data. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), "A cyberattacker nicknamed 'Alf' gained access to an Australian defense contractor's computers and began a four-month raid that snared data on sophisticated U.S. weapons systems. Using the simple combinations of login names and passwords 'admin; admin' and 'guest; guest' and exploiting a vulnerability in the company's help-desk portal, the attacker roved the firm's network for four months. The identity and affiliation of the hackers in the Australian attack weren't disclosed, but officials with knowledge of the intrusion said the attack was thought to have originated in China."

The article goes on to state that "Alf obtained around 30 gigabytes of data on Australia's planned purchase of up to 100 F-35 fighters made by Lockheed Martin, as well as information on new warships and Boeing-built P-8 Poseidon maritime-surveillance aircraft, in the July 2016 breach." The stolen data also included details of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and guided bombs used by the U.S. and Australian militaries as well as design information "down to the captain's chair" on new warships for Australia's navy.

Google

Google Announces $1 Billion Job Training and Education Program (axios.com) 48

Google CEO Sundar Pichai was in Pittsburgh Wednesday to announce a new five-year, $1 billion program to help close the global education gap. From a report: Part of the program was a new "Grow with Google" program to work with U.S. cities as well as a $10 million grant to Goodwill that will see Google employees working with the nonprofit to train people in digital skills. Why it matters: Google, along with Apple, Microsoft and other big tech companies, have all launched significant efforts in recent months to demonstrate their commitment to education and U.S. jobs.
Education

Learn To Code, It's More Important Than English as a Second Language, Says Apple CEO (cnbc.com) 296

Apple CEO Tim Cook says it is more important to learn how to code than it is to learn English as a second language. From a report: The tech executive made the remarks to French outlet Konbini while in the country for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called for tech companies to pay higher taxes in Europe. "If I were a French student and I were 10 years old, I think it would be more important for me to learn coding than English. I'm not telling people not to learn English in some form -- but I think you understand what I am saying is that this is a language that you can [use to] express yourself to 7 billion people in the world," Cook tells Konbini. "I think that coding should be required in every public school in the world. [...] It's the language that everyone needs, and not just for the computer scientists. It's for all of us."
Education

'Maybe Wikipedia Readers Shouldn't Need Science Degrees To Digest Articles About Basic Topics' (vice.com) 304

Wikipedia articles about "hard science" (physics, biology, chemistry) topics are really mostly written for other scientists, writes Michael Byrne, a reporter on Science beat at Vice's Motherboard news outlet. From the article: This particular class of Wikipedia article tends to take the high-level form of a scientific paper. There's a brief intro (an abstract) that is kinda-sorta comprehensible, but then the article immediately degenerates into jargon and equations. Take, for example, the page for the electroweak interaction in particle physics. This is a topic of potentially broad interest; its formulation won a trio of physicists the Nobel Prize in 1979. Generally, it has to do with a fundamental linkage between two of the four fundamental forces of the universe, electromagnetism and the weak force. The Wikipedia article for the electroweak force consists of a two-paragraph introduction that basically just says what I said above plus some fairly intimidating technical context. The rest of the article is almost entirely gnarly math equations. I have no idea who the article exists for because I'm not sure that person actually exists: someone with enough knowledge to comprehend dense physics formulations that doesn't also already understand the electroweak interaction or that doesn't already have, like, access to a textbook about it. For another, somewhat different example, look at the article for graphene. Graphene is, of course, an endlessly hyped superstrong supermaterial. It's in the news constantly. The article isn't just a bunch of math equations, but it's also not much more penetrable for a reader without at least some chemistry/materials science background.
AI

We're Too Wise For Robots To Take Our Jobs, Alibaba's Jack Ma Says (scmp.com) 221

Have confidence in yourself -- technology will never replace human beings, insisted self-made billionaire Jack Ma in a keynote speech at Alibaba Cloud's Computing Conference in Hangzhou. From a report: There's one simple reason for that, the Alibaba founder said - we possess wisdom. "People are getting more worried about the future, about technology replacing humans, eliminating jobs and widening the gap between the rich and the poor," said Ma. "But I think these are empty worries. Technology exists for people. We worry about technology because we lack confidence in ourselves, and imagination for the future." Ma explained that humans are the only things on Earth that are wise. "People will always surpass machines because people possess wisdom," he said. Referencing AlphaGo, the Google artificial intelligence program that beat the world's top Go player at his own game, Ma said that there was no reason humanity should be saddened by the defeat. "AlphaGo? So what? AlphaGo should compete against AlphaGo 2.0, not us. There's no need to be upset that we lost. It shows that we're smart, because we created it."
Businesses

Hollywood Studios Join Disney To Launch Movies Anywhere Digital Locker Service (theverge.com) 48

There may be a grand unifying service to make accumulating a large digital cinematic library feasible, or so is the hope anyway. From a report: For several years now, Disney has been the only Hollywood studio with a digital movie locker worth using, but a host of other industry heavyweights have now jumped on board to launch an expanded version of the service called Movies Anywhere. It's both a cloud-based digital locker and a one-stop-shop app: customers connect Movies Anywhere to their iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, or Vudu accounts, and all of the eligible movies they've purchased through those retailers appear as part of their Movies Anywhere library. Given that the Movies Anywhere app works across a number of platforms, it basically allows them to take their digital film library with them no matter what device or operating system they're using. [...] The launch of Movies Anywhere should be the merciful, final blow that puts an end to UltraViolet, one of the entertainment industry's first attempts at putting together a comprehensive digital locker service. That service flailed due to a poor customer experience and lack of adoption on the part of big digital retailers like Apple. The team behind Movies Anywhere seems to have learned from UltraViolet's mistakes, however, as well as Disney's previous successes.
Television

Comcast Pressures Local Cable Firms to Curb Low-Cost TV Packages (bloomberg.com) 98

Gerry Smith, reporting for Bloomberg: Comcast is trying to restrict cable operators' sales of low-cost TV service to ensure its regional sports networks don't lose too many subscribers, according to a trade group of about 750 smaller companies that have taken their complaint to regulators. Comcast has tried to limit the availability of sports-free offerings in contract talks with pay-TV operators, according to the American Cable Association, whose members have about 7 million subscribers. In addition to being the largest U.S. cable provider, Comcast owns regional sports channels in markets such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. The claim shows programmers are fighting back as more consumers seek TV options that don't include sports. Cable operators are trying to stem subscriber losses by offering a "basic" service with just a few channels and internet access for fans of Netflix or Amazon.
Android

Down the Rabbit Hole With a BLU Phone Infection (threatpost.com) 43

msm1267 writes: BLU phones, marketed as affordable Android devices, have recently been pulled from Amazon and other retailers after allegations the devices were infected with spyware and posed a privacy threat to users. This is the tale of one such victim who purchased 11 devices that instantaneously began serving pop-up ads and downloading unwanted applications. The phones were analyzed and the root of the issue in this case was uncovered.
Businesses

Legal Online Gambling Could Return To the US (digitaltrends.com) 103

A new report says legal online gambling may be coming back to the U.S., not from an casino magnate such as Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson, but rather a headphone industry executive. From a report: Now Monster, the same company that turned the headphone industry upside down with Dr. Dre, plans to revive online gambling in America by enlisting someone with a different kind of notoriety: Fred Khalilian. He's a former telemarketing kingpin, wannabe reality TV personality, two-time FTC loser -- and now, the new COO of Monster. He plans to open the company's gambling site, PokerTribe.com, on or before December 15. And he might just make the company billions. So he might also be a genius. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Gambling is illegal, right? Sort of. How will a headphone maker succeed in online gambling where Trump, Branson, and others have failed? "The roadmap is unbelievable, fraught with laws, certifications, international law, gaming commissions, all that stuff. Very, very complex," Monster CEO Noel Lee exclusively told Digital Trends. "But [Fred] has overcome. He's found his niche, he's worked his way through the government, through the Federal Trade Commission, through all of that, with a strategy that's built around the American Indians."
Security

Equifax Website Hacked Again, this Time To Redirect To Fake Flash Update (arstechnica.com) 150

For several hours on Wednesday Equifax's website was compromised again, this time to deliver fraudulent Adobe Flash updates, which when clicked, infected visitors' computers with adware that was detected by only three of 65 antivirus providers, reports Dan Goodin at Ars Technica. From the report: Randy Abrams, an independent security analyst by day, happened to visit the site Wednesday evening to contest what he said was false information he had just found on his credit report. Eventually, his browser opened up a page on the domain hxxp:centerbluray.info. He was understandably incredulous. The site that previously gave up personal data for virtually every US person with a credit history was once again under the control of attackers, this time trying to trick Equifax visitors into installing crapware Symantec calls Adware.Eorezo. Knowing a thing or two about drive-by campaigns, Abrams figured the chances were slim he'd see the download on follow-on visits. To fly under the radar, attackers frequently serve the downloads to only a select number of visitors, and then only once. Abrams tried anyway, and to his amazement, he encountered the bogus Flash download links on at least three subsequent visits. Update: Equifax said on Thursday it was taking one of its web pages offline as its security team looks into reports of another potential cyber breach.
Social Networks

How Facebook Outs Sex Workers (gizmodo.com) 635

An anonymous reader shares a Gizmodo report: Leila has two identities, but Facebook is only supposed to know about one of them. Leila is a sex worker. She goes to great lengths to keep separate identities for ordinary life and for sex work, to avoid stigma, arrest, professional blowback, or clients who might be stalkers (or worse). Her "real identity" -- the public one, who lives in California, uses an academic email address, and posts about politics -- joined Facebook in 2011. Her sex-work identity is not on the social network at all; for it, she uses a different email address, a different phone number, and a different name. Yet earlier this year, looking at Facebook's "People You May Know" recommendations, Leila (a name I'm using in place of either of the names she uses) was shocked to see some of her regular sex-work clients. Despite the fact that she'd only given Facebook information from her vanilla identity, the company had somehow discerned her real-world connection to these people -- and, even more horrifyingly, her account was potentially being presented to them as a friend suggestion too, outing her regular identity to them. Because Facebook insists on concealing the methods and data it uses to link one user to another, Leila is not able to find out how the network exposed her or take steps to prevent it from happening again. "We're living in an age where you can weaponize personal information against people"Kashmir Hill, the reporter who wrote the above story, a few weeks ago shared another similar incident.
Transportation

Richard Branson's Virgin Group Invests in Super-fast Hyperloop One Transport System (cnbc.com) 60

An anonymous reader shares a report: Richard Branson's Virgin Group is investing in Hyperloop One, a company developing the super-fast transport system originally conceptualized up by Elon Musk. Hypleroop One is re-branding itself as Virgin Hyperloop One, and Branson is joining the board, the billionaire British investor and entrepreneur announced Thursday on CNBC from London. Virgin Hyperloop One will focus on a passenger and mixed-use cargo service. Last month, Hypleroop One raised $85 million in new funding, and that includes the investment from Virgin. Branson refused to breakout the numbers. Breaking ground on a commercial hyperloop in two to four years is possible if "governments move quickly," Branson said in a "Squawk Box" interview. So far, no government has approved a plan for a hyperloop system. The Virgin founder also said that building a hyperloop tube above or below ground is "cheaper" and "faster" than a traditional rail network. The idea of the transport system -- conceived in 2013 by Musk, the head of both electric automaker Tesla and SpaceX -- works by propelling pods through tubes using magnets reaching speeds akin to those of airplanes.
Earth

Evidence Suggests Updated Timeline Towards Yellowstone's Supervolcano Eruption (nytimes.com) 320

Camel Pilot writes: Geologist have been aware of fresh magma moving in the Yellowstone's super volcano system. Previously this was thought to precede an eruption by thousands of years. Recent evidence by Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, demonstrates that perhaps the timeline from the underground basin filling to eruption is more on the scale of decades. A super volcano eruption has the power to alter life's story on this earth and even destroy all life on a continent. In light of this, it seems like a good time to invest some effort and resources into finding ways to prepare, delay or deflect the potential threat. The research was presented at the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon.
Space

Scientists Discover Ring Around Dwarf Planet Haumea Beyond Neptune 49

A ring has been discovered around one of the dwarf planets that orbits the outer reaches of the solar system. Until now, ring-like structures had only been found around the four outer planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The Guardian reports: "In 2014 we discovered that a very small body in the Centaurs region [an area of small celestial bodies between the asteroid belt and Neptune] had a ring and at that time it seemed to be a very weird thing," explained Dr Jose Ortiz, whose group at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Granada made the discovery described in the journal Nature. "We didn't expect to find a ring around Haumea, but we were not too surprised either." Haumea was recognized by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 and is one of five dwarf planets, alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune -- 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. Haumea, named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, is unusual because of its elongated shape, comparable to a rugby ball, and its rapid rotation, spinning around once every 3.9 hours. Its diameter is approximately a third of the size of Earth's moon.
Space

SpaceX Successfully Landed the 12th Falcon 9 Rocket of 2017 (theverge.com) 118

Shortly after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on one of the company's drone ships in the ocean. "It marks the 12th time SpaceX has successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 18th overall, and the second this week," reports The Verge. "It was also the third time that the company has successfully launched and landed a rocket that had already flown." From the report: The vehicle for this mission has flown before: once back in February, when it lofted cargo to the International Space Station and then landed at SpaceX's ground-based Landing Zone 1. Going up on this flight is a hybrid satellite that will be used by two companies, SES and EchoStar. Called EchoStar 105/SES-11, the satellite will sit in a high orbit 22,000 miles above Earth, providing high-definition broadcasts to the U.S. and other parts of North America. While this is the first time EchoStar is flying a payload on a used Falcon 9, this is familiar territory for SES. The company's SES-10 satellite went up on the first "re-flight" in March. And SES has made it very clear that it is eager to fly its satellites on previously flown boosters.

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