It's funny.  Laugh.

Elon Musk Trolls the Media With a Clip From 'Spaceballs' (twitter.com) 134

An anonymous reader writes Elon Musk is having fun on Twitter, where he's either promoting the new line of $20 "Boring Company" hats or trolling the media. "To preserve the transcendent majesty & specialness of The Boring Company cap, we are capping cap orders at 50,000 caps," Musk tweeted Sunday, adding "Almost there ..." Responding to a user who asked, "Is this really how you're funding the boring company??" Musk answered "Yes."

An hour later he tweeted that "Every 5000th buyer of our boringly boring hat will get a free hat signed by the delivery guy. That special hat delivery will take place deep within the real, but fictional (of course), tunnel we are building under LA while you drive the giant machine blindfolded. This will actually happen."

And then hours later, Musk shared a fresh insight into his thought process. "The *real* money comes from merchandising," he tweeted, adding "I learned it from this documentary," sharing a video titled "merchandising" which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a clip from the 1987 comedy "Spaceballs" starring Mel Brooks.

Ironically, George Lucas had only blessed Mel Brooks' parody of Star Wars with one condition: that no Space Balls action figure merchandise ever be produced.
Botnet

How 'Grinch Bots' Are Ruining Online Christmas Shopping (nypost.com) 283

Yes, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer actually called them "Grinch bots." From the New York Post: The senator said as soon as a retailer puts a hard-to-get toy -- like Barbie's Dreamhouse or Nintendo game systems -- for sale on a website, a bot can snatch it up even before a kid's parents finish entering their credit card information... "Bots come in and buy up all the toys and then charge ludicrous prices amidst the holiday shopping bustle," the New York Democrat said on Sunday... For example, Schumer said, the popular Fingerlings -- a set of interactive baby monkey figurines that usually sell for around $15 -- are being snagged by the scalping software and resold on secondary websites for as much as $1,000 a pop...

In December 2016, Congress passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which Schumer sponsored, to crack down on their use to buy concert tickets, but the measure doesn't apply to other consumer products. He wants that law expanded but knows that won't happen in time for this holiday season. In the meantime, Schumer wants the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to block the bots and lead the effort to stop them from buying toys at fair retail prices and then reselling them at outrageous markups.

AI

Google's AI Built an AI that Outperforms Any Made By Humans (sciencealert.com) 235

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: In May 2017, researchers at Google Brain announced the creation of AutoML, an artificial intelligence (AI) that's capable of generating its own AIs. More recently, they decided to present AutoML with its biggest challenge to date, and the AI that can build AI created a 'child' that outperformed all of its human-made counterparts... For this particular child AI, which the researchers called NASNet, the task was recognising objects -- people, cars, traffic lights, handbags, backpacks, etc. -- in a video in real-time. AutoML would evaluate NASNet's performance and use that information to improve its child AI, repeating the process thousands of times.

When tested on the ImageNet image classification and COCO object detection data sets NASNet was 82.7 percent accurate at predicting images on ImageNet's validation set. This is 1.2 percent better than any previously published results, and the system is also 4 percent more efficient, with a 43.1 percent mean Average Precision (mAP).

Education

Should Teachers Get $100 For Steering Kids To Google's 'Hour of Code' Lesson? 89

Tomorrow's "Hour of Code" kick-off event features Melinda Gates, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and "multiple state governors," reports theodp -- who has some concerns. With Microsoft boasting that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched, and tech companies pushing coding and their products into classrooms, it's probably no surprise that the 2017 Hour of Code -- organized by tech-bankrolled Code.org -- seems to have presented a too-hard-to-resist branding opportunity for Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.

And, in what might evoke memories of Dollars for Doctors, some teachers will even be rewarded for steering their kids to Google's Hour of Code lesson. "Thanks to our friends at Google," explains crowdfunding website DonorsChoose.org, "4th-8th grade public school teachers who engage their students in a 'Create your own Google logo' Hour of Code activity can earn a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift code -- and have the opportunity to receive one of five other grand prizes (including $5,000 in DonorsChoose.org credits for your school!)."
Intel

Dell Begins Offering Laptops With Intel's 'Management Engine' Disabled (liliputing.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes Liliputing.com Linux computer vendor System76 announced this week that it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on computers it sells moving forward. Those two computer companies are pretty small players in the multi-billion dollar PC industry. But it turns out one of the world's largest PC companies is also offering customers the option of buying a computer with Intel Management Engine disabled.

At least three Dell computers can be configured with an "Intel vPro -- ME Inoperable, Custom Order" option, although you'll have to pay a little extra for those configurations... While Intel doesn't officially provide an option to disable its Management Engine, independent security researchers have discovered methods for doing that and we're starting to see PC makers make use of those methods.

The option appears to be available on most of Dell's Latitude laptops (from the 12- to 15-inch screens), including the 7480, 5480, and 5580 and the Latitude 14 5000 Series (as well as several "Rugged" and "Rugged Extreme" models).

Dell is charging anywhere from $20.92 to $40 to disable Intel's Management Engine.
Programming

'24 Pull Requests' Suggests Contributing Code For Christmas (24pullrequests.com) 30

An anonymous reader writes: "On December 1st, 24 Pull Requests will be opening its virtual doors once again, asking you to give the gift of a pull request to an open source project in need," writes UK-based software developer Andrew Nesbitt -- noting that last year the site registered more than 16,000 pull requests. "And they're not all by programmers. Often the contribution with the most impact might be an improvement to technical documentation, some tests, or even better -- guidance for other contributors."

This year they're even touting "24 Pull Requests hack events," happening around the world from Lexington, Kentucky to Torino, Italy. (Last year 80 people showed up for an event in London.) "You don't have to hack alone this Christmas!" suggests the site, also inviting local communities and geek meetups (as well as open source-loving companies) to host their own events.

Contributing to open source projects can also beef up your CV (for when you're applying for your next job), the site points out, and "Even small contributions can be really valuable to a project."

"You've been benefiting from the use of open source projects all year. Now is the time to say thanks to the maintainers of those projects, and a little birdy tells me that they love receiving pull requests!"
Security

StartCom Will Stop Issuing Certificates, Revoking Them All in 2020 (startcomca.com) 42

thegarbz writes: Startcom, a certificate authority which as we covered previously has been distrusted by Mozilla, by Google, and recently also by Microsoft, has announced that it will cease trading as a Certificate Authority. While their website currently shows no indication that their certificates have any problems, a news posting has announced their intentions to stop providing certificates as of January 2018, and to revoke all remaining certificates in 2020.
The original submission also says StartCom sent an email to all their former customers -- including customers of their free StartSSL certificates -- announcing their intentions. As you are surely aware, the browser makers distrusted StartCom around a year ago and therefore all the end entity certificates newly issued by StartCom are not trusted by default in browsers.

The browsers imposed some conditions in order for the certificates to be re-accepted. While StartCom believes that these conditions have been met, it appears there are still certain difficulties forthcoming. Considering this situation, the owners of StartCom have decided to terminate the company as a Certification Authority as mentioned in Startcoms website.

StartCom will stop issuing new certificates starting from January 1st, 2018 and will provide only CRL and OCSP services for two more years. StartCom would like to thank you for your support during this difficult time.

Encryption

PHP Now Supports Argon2 Next-Generation Password Hashing Algorithm (bleepingcomputer.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer: PHP got a whole lot more secure this week with the release of the 7.2 branch, a version that improves and modernizes the language's support for cryptography and password hashing algorithms.

Of all changes, the most significant is, by far, the support for Argon2, a password hashing algorithm developed in the early 2010s. Back in 2015, Argon2 beat 23 other algorithms to win the Password Hashing Competition, and is now in the midst of becoming a universally recognized Internet standard at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the reward for winning the contest. The algorithm is currently considered to be superior to Bcrypt, today's most widely used password hashing function, in terms of both security and cost-effectiveness, and is also slated to become a favorite among cryptocurrencies, as it can also handle proof-of-work operations.

The other major change in PHP 7.2 was the removal of the old Mcrypt cryptographic library from the PHP core and the addition of Libsodium, a more modern alternative.

Power

R.I.P., Cape Wind (bostonglobe.com) 228

schwit1 quotes the Boston Globe: What a long, slow death it has been for Massachusetts's first proposed offshore wind farm. But now, its proponents are finally pulling the plug. While others in the energy industry considered the Cape Wind project dead, developer Jim Gordon didn't quit after losing power contracts he needed for financing in early 2015, or after state regulators yanked permission for a power line connection last year.

Another big blow came later in 2016 when Cape Wind foes worked their magic on Beacon Hill. They successfully lobbied lawmakers to prevent Cape Wind from benefitting from a major energy bill, one that requires utilities to buy large amounts of offshore wind. This was exactly the kind of legislation Gordon needed. But he wasn't being allowed at the party...

We're embarking on a new era. Wind turbines are on their way for deeper waters, south of Martha's Vineyard. They won't be Gordon's. But at least he can take some credit, in his defeat, for being a pioneer.

Medicine

Can Researchers Detect Irregular Heart Rhythms with the Apple Watch? (usatoday.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: Might wearing an Apple Watch save you from a stroke or cardio problem? Apple is careful not to make that direct claim. But the company, in collaboration with Stanford University School of Medicine, launched the Apple Heart Study app on Thursday that uses the heart rate sensor inside the Apple Watch to collect data on irregular heart rhythms... If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, participants in the study will be notified through the Apple Watch and on their iPhones. Should that occur, you'll be offered a free consultation with a study doctor, and possibly an electrocardiogram patch for additional monitoring...

A participant in the study merely has to download the app and wear the watch... The way Apple explains it, a sensor inside the watch uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor has an optical design that gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist. Using software algorithms, the Apple Watch can isolate heart rhythms from other noise, and identify an irregular heart rhythm.

The FDA has also approved the first personal electrocardiogram accessory for the Apple Watch, according to TechNewsWorld. "The KardiaBand" also detects and records atrial fibrillation that can lead to strokes or other heart problems. "The user simply touches an integrated sensor, and the results are then displayed on the face of the Apple Watch."

An irregular, bloodflow-disrupting heartbeat is the top cause of strokes, which kill 130,000 people every year just in the U.S. -- in many case before they've experienced any symptoms.
Science

Your Brain 'Blinks' When Your Attention Shifts, Researchers Discover (vanderbilt.edu) 87

Science_afficionado quotes Vanderbilt University's Research News: When your attention shifts from one place to another, your brain blinks. The blinks are momentary unconscious gaps in visual perception and came as a surprise to the team of Vanderbilt psychologists who discovered the phenomenon while studying the benefits of attention... The research was conducted with macaque monkeys that were trained to shift their attention among different objects on a display screen while the researchers monitored the pattern of neuron activity taking place in their brains... By combining advanced recording techniques that simultaneously track large numbers of neurons with sophisticated computational analyses, the researchers discovered that the activity of the neurons in the visual cortex were momentarily disrupted when the game required the animals to shift their attention. They also traced the source of the disruptions to parts of the brain involved in guiding attention, not back to the eyes.
The Almighty Buck

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Says Bitcoin 'Ought to be Outlawed' (cnn.com) 461

Bitcoin "is drawing harsh criticism from Wall Street investment firms," writes Slashdot reader rmdingler -- and even from some prominent economists. CNN reports: The harshest assessment came from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who said that bitcoin "ought to be outlawed. Bitcoin is successful only because of its potential for circumvention," he told Bloomberg TV. "It doesn't serve any socially useful function." Robert Shiller, who won a Nobel for his work on bubbles, said the currency appeals to some investors because it has an "anti-government, anti-regulation feel. It's such a wonderful story," he said at a conference in Lithuania, according to Bloomberg. "If it were only true."

Wall Street titans were getting in on the action, too. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein told Bloomberg that the currency serves as "a vehicle for perpetrating fraud." Billionaire investor Carl Icahn said on CNBC that it "seems like a bubble." The digital currency previously attracted the derision of JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon, who called it a "fraud" that would "eventually blow up." Warren Buffett has warned of a "real bubble."

Wednesday the price of bitcoin shot past $11,000 -- just ten days after rising past $8,000.
Cloud

Is Open Source Innovation Now All About Vendor On-Ramps? (infoworld.com) 58

InfoWorld published an interesting essay from Matt Asay, former COO at Canonical (and an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative), about innovation from the big public cloud vendors, which "even when open-sourced, doesn't really help the community at large... All this innovation is available to buy; none of it is available to build. Not for mere mortals, anyway." Google in particular has figured out how to both open-source code in a useful way and make it pay. As Server Density CEO David Mytton has underlined, Google hopes to "standardize machine learning on a single framework and API," namely TensorFlow, then supplement it "with a service that can [manage] it all for you more efficiently and with less operational overhead," namely Google Cloud. By open-sourcing TensorFlow and backing it with machine-learning-heavy Google Cloud, Google has open-sourced a great on-ramp to future revenue.

My question: why not do this with the rest of its code? The simple answer is "Because it's a lot of work." That is, Google could open-source everything tomorrow without any damage to its revenue, but the code itself would provide other providers and enterprises only limited ability to increase their revenue unless Google did all the necessary prep work to make it useful to mere mortals not running superhuman Google infrastructure. This is the trick that AWS, Microsoft, and Google are all racing to figure out today. Not open source, per se, because that's the easy table stakes. No, the AWS/Microsoft Azure/Google Cloud trio are figuring out how to turn their innovations into open source on-ramps to their proprietary services. Companies used to lock up their code to sell it. Today, it's the opposite: They need to open it up to make their ability to operate the code at scale more valuable. For them.

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