Businesses

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.
Iphone

Some Smartphone Salesmen Aren't Sold on the iPhone X (cnet.com) 230

A CNET reporter visited four carrier stores to ask their salesmen if they'd recommend an iPhone X. But after visiting stores for Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, "I couldn't even find a salesperson to tell me it was the best iPhone I could buy." So he finally tried asking three salesmen at Apple Stores -- and still got equivocal answers. An anonymous reader quotes CNET's report: "Well, it depends on what you like," the salesman said, somewhat coyly. "The biggest problem I have with it is using Face ID for Apple Pay. You really have to put the phone at a certain angle or it doesn't work." He started with a problem. I was already suspicious. I was in something of a hurry, but I asked him: "So are you selling a lot more of these than other phones?"

He turned into a high-ranking member of a political party. "All our phones sell well," he said. Which sounded not entirely reassuring. Indeed, it sounded like a "no."

Chatting next with an Apple store "Genius" (who was testing his iPhone 6), CNET's reporter was told that "The X and the 8 are the same phone... Inside, I mean. With the X, you're just paying the extra money for the design." Unfortunately, that salesman's $999 iPhone X was wrapped in an ugly pink case, because after four weeks he'd already cracked it. And a third Apple salesman -- who touted the glories of an OLED screen -- also kept his iPhone X in a case at all times "It's glass," he explained. "You'll definitely need a case."

"But what about not being able to see the lovely phone?"

"Get a see-through case," he replied with a smile.
Programming

C Programming Language 'Has Completed a Comeback' (infoworld.com) 243

InfoWorld reports that "the once-declining C language" has "completed a comeback" -- citing its rise to second place in the Tiobe Index of language popularity, the biggest rise of any language in 2017. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Although the language only grew 1.69 percentage points in its rating year over year in the January index, that was enough beat out runners-up Python (1.21 percent gain) and Erlang (0.98 percent gain). Just five months ago, C was at its lowest-ever rating, at 6.477 percent; this month, its rating is 11.07 percent, once again putting it in second place behind Java (14.215 percent) -- although Java dropped 3.05 percent compared to January 2017. C's revival is possibly being fueled by its popularity in manufacturing and industry, including the automotive market, Tiobe believes...

But promising languages such as Julia, Hack, Rust, and Kotlin were not able to reach the top 20 or even the top 30, Tiobe pointed out. "Becoming part of the top 10 or even the top 20 requires a large ecosystem of communities and evangelists including conferences," said Paul Jansen, Tiobe managing director and compiler of the index. "This is not something that can be developed in one year's time."

For 2017 Tiobe also reports that after Java and C, the most popular programming languages were C++, Python, C#, JavaScript, Visual Basic .Net, R, PHP, and Perl.

The rival Pypl Popularity of Programming Language index calculates that the most popular languages are Java, Python, PHP, JavaScript, C#, C++, C, R, Objective-C, and Swift.
Linux

Can You Install Linux On a 1993 PC? (yeokhengmeng.com) 253

The oldest x86 CPU that the Linux kernel supports today is theoretically the 486. However is this theory actually true in practice? I decided to put this theory to the test in my project.
His site describes installing Gentoo Linux on an "ancient" IBM PS/1 Consultant 2133 19C (released in 1993), with 64MB SIMM-72 RAM. (Though to speed things up, he compiled that minimal version of Gentoo on a modern Thinkpad T430 released in 2012.) "Due to the age of the PC, the BIOS only supports booting from the floppy drive or internal HDD," so there was also some disk partitioning and kernel configuration. ("Must disable 64-bit kernel for obvious reasons!") A half-hour video shows that it takes almost 11 minutes just to boot up -- and five and a half minutes to shut down. "Despite the many roadblocks I faced, I was impressed by the level of support Linux has for ancient hardware like this."

And there's one more added bonus. "Given the age of the 486 (1989 technology), it does not support branch prediction... Ironically this makes it safe from the Meltdown and Spectre attacks."
The Military

Pentagon Seeks Laser-Powered Bat Drones (defenseone.com) 44

Zorro quotes DefenseOne: A new contest seeks flight systems inspired by Mother Nature and powered by directed-energy beams. Tired: multi-rotor copters and fixed-wing drones. Wired: flying robots that move like living animals, are crafted of next-generation materials, and draw their power not from batteries but energy beamed from nearby aircraft...

"The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials," the announcement reads. The Air Force believes that more and more naturalistic design -- coupled with more powerful and smaller sensors to form a better picture of the outside world -- should yield "significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs."

The article includes a link to a CalTech video showing footage of an advanced robotic bat.
Bug

After Intel ME, Researchers Find Security Bug In AMD's SPS Secret Chip-on-Chip (bleepingcomputer.com) 76

An anonymous reader writes: AMD has fixed, but not yet released BIOS/UEFI/firmware updates for the general public for a security flaw affecting the AMD Secure Processor. This component, formerly known as AMD PSP (Platform Security Processor), is a chip-on-chip security system, similar to Intel's much-hated Management Engine (ME). Just like Intel ME, the AMD Secure Processor is an integrated coprocessor that sits next to the real AMD64 x86 CPU cores and runs a separate operating system tasked with handling various security-related operations.

The security bug is a buffer overflow that allows code execution inside the AMD SPS TPM, the component that stores critical system data such as passwords, certificates, and encryption keys, in a secure environment and outside of the more easily accessible AMD cores. Intel fixed a similar flaw last year in the Intel ME.

Moon

John Young, Legendary Astronaut, Dies at Age 87 (cbsnews.com) 41

Legendary astronaut John Young -- who walked on the moon and piloted the first space shuttle -- died Friday at the age of 87. schwit1 shares a nice profile from CBS News: A naval aviator and test pilot, Young logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in a variety of aircraft, including 9,200 hours in T-38 jets. He spent 835 hours in space across his six NASA flights, serving as co-pilot of the first Gemini mission in 1965, commander of a second Gemini flight in 1966, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 in 1969, commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 and commander of the first shuttle flight in 1981... Young was the first man to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to fly aboard Gemini and Apollo capsules and the space shuttle... He also brought a legendary cool nerve to an inherently dangerous job that amazed his compatriots. "I found out from the flight surgeon later on that my heartbeat was 144 at liftoff," Charlie Duke, one of Young's crewmates on the Apollo 16 moon landing mission, said of his reaction to launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket. "John's (heartbeat) was 70".
On one space shuttle flight, two of the ship's three auxiliary power units actually caught on fire, and exploded just minutes after touchdown. But Young always kept his cool. In 2010 Slashdot remembered the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. When it reached orbit, Young surprised his fellow astronaut Gus Grissom by pulling a fresh corned beef sandwich out of his pocket.

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes:
Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts", remembers that Young "used to talk about how if we stay on this planet for too long, something's going to get us, whether it was a super volcano or whatever. He really was a true believer." NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot added that Young's career "spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

In 2012 -- when he was in his 80s -- Young published a memoir titled Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space. "My life has been long, and it has been interesting. It's also been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, challenging work. If I could do it over, I would do it over the very same way.

Google

Google Sold 6.75 Million 'Google Home' Devices In the Last 80 Days (techcrunch.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Google today announced that it sold "tens of millions of Google devices for the home" over the course of the last year and that it sold "more than one Google Home device every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October," with roughly 6.75 million seconds since October 19 (the day the Home Mini officially went on sale)... The launch of the Google Home Mini, which you could easily buy for $29 (and occasionally for $19 with store credit) gave the company a low-price competitor to Amazon's Echo Dots, and even though it's doubtful that Google made a lot of money of these sales, the move clearly paid off.
The Verge adds: Google is thought to be losing money on every unit of the Home Mini; Reuters reported on one analysis that pegged the device's parts alone at $26, not including the cost of developing the entire thing, supporting it, advertising it, shipping it, and so on. Of course, Google is in this for the long game -- the Assistant is an attempt to make sure Google remains the way people get information, and Google has plenty of options to make money through ads or the data it collects in the future...

Amazon is also believed to be losing money on the Echo Dot, which was similarly cut to $29 during the holiday season. Amazon never gives out specific sales figures, but it did say that "tens of millions" of its own Alexa-enabled devices were sold over the holidays, with the Echo Dot being one of the top sellers... These super cheap prices are getting people to buy smart speakers and commit to an ecosystem. These companies are clearly happy to spend a few dollars gaining customers in the short term so that they have an enormous audience available to them down the road.

AI

Researchers Create 'Psychedelic' Stickers That Confuse AI Image Recognition (techcrunch.com) 112

"Researchers at Google were able to create little stickers with 'psychedelic'-looking patterns on them that could trick computer AI image-classifying algorithms into mis-classifying images of objects that it would normally be able to recognize," writes amxcoder: The patterned stickers work by tricking the image recognition algorithm into focusing on, and studying, the little pattern on the small sticker -- and ignoring the rest of the image, including the actual object in the picture... The images on the stickers were created by the researchers using knowledge of features and shapes, patterns, and colors that the image recognition algorithms look for and focus on.

These stickers were created so that the algorithm finds them 'more interesting' than the rest of the image and will focus most of it's attention on analyzing the pattern, while giving the rest of the image content a lower importance, thus ignoring it or confusing it.

The technique "works in the real world, and can be disguised as an innocuous sticker," note the researchers -- describing them as "targeted adversarial image patches."
Space

NASA Tests a Drone To Explore Jupiter's Moon in Antarctica (popularmechanics.com) 65

Three months of research in Antarctica is just the beginning for one Georgia Tech researcher, according to an article shared by schwit1: The waters beneath our planet's ice sheet are fascinating, turning up species few people have ever laid eyes on. But they are not the final target of this chase. Icefin [a 10-foot-long subsea drone] is meant to search for alien life -- a "bug hunt," as some scientists cheerfully call it. It is bound for the icy waters of Jupiter's moon, Europa, possibly as soon as 2030...

The new equipment includes sensors to monitor for organics and measure environmental factors like the presence of dissolved oxygen and levels of acidity, all to see if Europa could (in theory) support life in its subterranean seas... The subsea drone is also smarter than its prototype predecessor, and that high-IQ autonomy would be needed on Europa. The probe must not only operate 400 million miles from Earth but also navigate all by itself under alien ice.

Medicine

A Popular Sugar Additive May Have Fueled the Spread of Two Superbugs (latimes.com) 125

Zorro (Slashdot reader #15,797) quotes the Los Angeles Times: Two bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals around the country may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in our food products, scientists say. Trehalose, a sugar that is added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds. The results, described in the journal Nature, highlight the unintended consequences of introducing otherwise harmless additives to the food supply.
Nearly half a million people were sickened by C. difficile in 2011, when it was directly linked to 15,000 deaths. "The misuse and overuse of antibiotics has long been thought to be responsible for the rise of many kinds of antibiotic-resistant 'superbug'," notes the article, before citing a researcher who now believes "the circumstantial and experimental evidence points to trehalose as an unexpected culprit."
Hardware

Nvidia Wants To Prohibit Consumer GPU Use In Datacenters (theregister.co.uk) 312

The Register reports: Nvidia has banned the use of its GeForce and Titan gaming graphics cards in data centers -- forcing organizations to fork out for more expensive gear, like its latest Tesla V100 chips. The chip-design giant updated its GeForce and Titan software licensing in the past few days, adding a new clause that reads: "No Datacenter Deployment. The SOFTWARE is not licensed for datacenter deployment, except that blockchain processing in a datacenter is permitted."
Long-time Slashdot reader Xesdeeni has a few questions: Is this really even legal? First, because it changes use of existing hardware, already purchased, by changing software (with potentially required bug fixes) agreements retroactively. Second, because how can a customer (at least in the U.S.) be told they can't use a product in a particular place, unless it's a genuine safety or security concern (i.e. government regulation)!?
Nvidia expects that "working together with our user base on a case-by-case basis, we will be able to resolve any customer concerns," they told CNBC, adding that "those who don't download new drivers won't be held to the new terms."
Cellphones

Would You Use a Smartphone-Style Laptop With a Three-Day Battery Life? (king5.com) 194

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: "Always connected personal computers" -- or ACPCs -- refer to a new breed of Windows laptops with three key features: a battery that can last multiple days; instant-on access when you open the lid or touch a key; and an optional high-speed cellular connection, to avoid hunting for a Wi-Fi hotspot to get online. In other words, your laptop is going to behave a lot more like your smartphone...

In fact, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, ASUS is claiming battery life of up to 22 hours of continuous video playback, and up to 30 days on standby. At $799, the ASUS NovaGo (model # TP370) will also be the first always-connected PC with a 360-degree flip hinge -- making it a "2-in-1" that can convert from laptop mode to a tablet by bending back the 13.3-inch screen -- and the first with Gigabit LTE speeds, for an always on, always connected experience.

ASUS's media relations director touts the high-speed cellular connections -- which consumers pay for separately -- as 3 to 7 times faster than broadband. "It allows you to download a 2-hour movie in about 10 seconds."

And Qualcomm's senior director of product management says there's more ways that it's like a smartphone. "Even when the screen is off, it's still connected, so when I open the lid, it does facial recognition, and I'm in."
Transportation

Google Loses Up to 250 Bikes a Week (siliconbeat.com) 208

What's happening to Google's 1,100 Gbikes? The Mercury News reports: Last summer, it emerged that some of the company's bikes -- intended to help Googlers move quickly and in environmentally friendly fashion around the company's sprawling campus and surrounding areas -- were sleeping with the fishes in Stevens Creek. And now, a new report has revealed that 100 to 250 Google bikes go missing every week, on average. "The disappearances often aren't the work of ordinary thieves, however. Many residents of Mountain View, a city of 80,000 that has effectively become Google's company town, see the employee perk as a community service," the Wall Street Journal reported.

And for the company, here's one Google bike use case that's got to burn a little: 68-year-old Sharon Veach told the newspaper that she sometimes uses one of the bicycles as part of her commute: to the offices of Google's arch foe, Oracle... Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg even admitted to helping himself to a Google bike to go to a movie after a meeting at the company's campus, according to the WSJ.

One Silicon Valley resident reportedly told a neighbor that "I've got a whole garage full of them," while Veach describes the bikes as "a reward for having to deal with the buses" that carry Google employees. Google has already hired 30 contractors to prowl the city in five vans looking for lost or stolen bikes -- only a third of which have GPS trackers -- and they eventually recover about two-thirds of the missing bikes.

They've discovered them as far away as Mexico, Alaska, and the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Media

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?

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