US Disaster Costs Shatter Records In 2017, the Third-Warmest Year On Record ( 222

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Major hurricanes and wildfires fueled a record year for costs related to natural disasters in the United States, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That report also said 2017 was the third-warmest year in 123 years of record keeping, behind only 2014 and 2012. Natural disasters in the United States cost more than $300 million last year, far surpassing the previous record of $214.8 billion set in 2005, NOAA said Monday. NOAA counted 1 drought event, 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, 8 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events, and 1 wildfire event during the year that bore losses exceeding $1 billion each. There were also 362 deaths. That would tie with 2011 for the largest number of such billion-dollar disasters, the agency said.
United States

Trump Pushes To Expand High-Speed Internet In Rural America ( 317

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday to make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings, part of a push to expand high-speed internet in rural America. Reuters reports: "We need to get rural America more connected. We need it for our tractors, we need it for our schools, we need it for our home-based businesses," a White House official told reporters ahead of Trump's speech at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "We're not moving mountains but we're certainly getting started," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview Trump's actions. The White House described the moves as an incremental step to help spur private development while the administration figures out what it can do to help with funding, something that could become part of Trump's plan to invest in infrastructure. "We know that funding is really the key thing to actually changing rural broadband," a second White House official said. Reuters cites a 2016 report from the Federal Communications Commission, noting that 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet service.

Wireless Charging Nears Unification As Powermat Cedes To Qi ( 37

Powermat, the only contender to the dominant format Qi, has joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and now backs its rival. "Qi has become the dominant wireless charging standard on the market and the recently launched Apple iPhone lineup is evidence of this success," Powermat said in a statement. "[We] will share technology innovation to further unlock wireless charging potential, and will expedite the growth of the wireless charging infrastructure." Engadget reports: Powermat was barely hanging on as a standard, but as it mentioned, Apple's favoring of Qi for its upcoming chargers pretty much sealed its fate. The company was forced to upgrade its chargers to support Qi at Starbucks locations, for instance, so that Apple's Qi-supported iPhone X- and 8-owning clients could juice up. Until a few years ago, there were essentially three standards, the Alliance for Wireless Power, the Power Matters Alliance (no joking), and Qi, which was already the dominant player. The first two merged to form the Airfuel alliance in 2015, of which Powermat was the main player.

AT&T Pulls Out of Deal To Sell China's Huawei Phones In the US ( 63

According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T has walked away from a deal to sell China's Huawei smartphones in the U.S. Neither AT&T nor Huawei have commented on the matter, but the news is certainly going to disappoint those of you who were looking forward to picking up Huawei's flagship Mate 10. Prior to this report, Huawei was expected to announce that its flagship Mate 10 will launch on AT&T in 2018. PhoneDog reports: Huawei has a major presence internationally, with recent reports saying that it's the No. 3 smartphone brand in the world behind Apple and Samsung. The company hasn't made much of a dent in the U.S., though, despite the fact that it's been selling its phones unlocked in the U.S. for awhile now. This AT&T deal would've been big for Huawei, helping it to get its phones inside carrier stores and in front of U.S. consumers, the majority of which still buy their phones from their carriers. Now we'll have to wait and see if Huawei can strike a deal with another carrier or if it'll have to continue on in the unlocked market. A Huawei spokesperson only said "Huawei has proven itself by delivering premium devices with integrity globally and in the U.S. market."

Google Rebrands All Its Payment Solutions As 'Google Pay' ( 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google just announced that it is merging all of its various payment programs into a single brand, called "Google Pay." Google Pay will be a one-stop shop for all your Google Payment needs: NFC smartphone payments, P2P transfers, and Web payments. Google's payment solution site has already clicked over to the new branding, and we'd guess a rebrand of the Android Pay app won't be far behind. The branding should start popping up on store credit card machines, too. So "Google Pay" is the new brand for every kind of payment Google offers -- all without the platform-specific branding problems of Android Pay. Google says this is "just the first step for Google Pay" and it "can't wait to share more."
Data Storage

Western Digital 'My Cloud' Devices Have a Hardcoded Backdoor ( 160

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: Today, yet another security blunder becomes publicized, and it is really bad. You see, many Western Digital MyCloud NAS drives have a hardcoded backdoor, meaning anyone can access them -- your files are at risk. It isn't even hard to take advantage of it -- the username is "mydlinkBRionyg" and the password is "abc12345cba" (without quotes). To make matters worse, it was disclosed to Western Digital six months ago and the company did nothing. GulfTech Research and Development explains, "The triviality of exploiting this issues makes it very dangerous, and even wormable. Not only that, but users locked to a LAN are not safe either. An attacker could literally take over your WDMyCloud by just having you visit a website where an embedded iframe or img tag make a request to the vulnerable device using one of the many predictable default hostnames for the WDMyCloud such as 'wdmycloud' and 'wdmycloudmirror' etc." The My Cloud Storage devices affected by this backdoor include: MyCloud, MyCloudMirror, My Cloud Gen 2, My Cloud PR2100, My Cloud PR4100, My Cloud EX2 Ultra, My Cloud EX2, My Cloud EX4, My Cloud EX2100, My Cloud EX4100, My Cloud DL2100, and My Cloud DL4100. Firmware 2.30.172 reportedly fixes the bug, so make sure your device is updated before reconnecting to the internet.

Intel Launches 8th Gen Core Series CPUs With Integrated AMD Radeon Graphics ( 123

MojoKid writes: At CES 2018, Intel unveiled more details of its 8th generation Intel Core processors with integrated AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics. Like cats and dogs living together, the mashup of an Intel processor with an AMD GPU is made possible by an Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB), which provides a high-speed data interconnect between the processor, GPU and 4GB of second-generation High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM2). Intel is delivering 8th generation H-Series Core processors in 65W TDP (laptops) and 100W TDP (desktops) SKUs that will take up 50 percent less PCB real estate, versus traditional discrete configs. Both the mobile and desktop variants of the processors will be available in Core i5 or Core i7 configurations, with 4 cores and 8 threads, up to 8MB of cache and 4GB of HBM2. The 65W mobile processors can boost up to 4.1GHz, while the Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU has base/boost clocks of 931MHz and 1011MHz, respectively. The AMD GPU has 20 compute units and memory bandwidth checks in at 179GB/s. Desktop processors ratchet the maximum boost slightly to 4.2GHz, while the base/boost clocks of the Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU jump to 1063MHz and 1190MHz, respectively. Desktop GPUs are also upgraded with 24 CUs and 204GB/s of memory bandwidth. Intel says that its 8th generation Core i7 with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics is up to 1.4x faster than a Core i7-8550U with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU in a notebook system. System announcements from Dell and HP are forthcoming, with availability in the first half of this year. Intel has also launched a new NUC small form factor gaming mini PC based on the technology as well.
The Internet

Senate Will Force Vote On Overturning Net Neutrality Repeal ( 143

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has mustered the 30 votes necessary to force a vote on the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced that she's signed onto Markey's request to overturn the new rules, under the Congressional Review Act -- which lets Congress nullify recently passed regulations with a simple majority. Markey announced his intention to file a resolution of disapproval in December, just after the FCC voted on new rules that killed net neutrality protections from 2015. These new rules were officially published last week, and with 30 sponsors, Markey can make the Senate vote on whether to consider overturning them. If this happens, it would lead to a debate and final vote. That's not remotely the end of the process: if it's approved, the resolution will go to the House, and if it passes there, the desk of Donald Trump, who seems unlikely to approve it.

GoPro Quits the Drone Business ( 65

GoPro has announced that it's exiting the drone business, citing the challenges of turning a profit in an "extremely competitive" market. From a report: The company revealed the news during its earnings report today, saying that its Karma drone would be the last it would make. The company is also laying off hundreds of staff and reducing the pay of CEO Nicholas Woodman to $1 as it struggles to manage its rocky financials. The $799 Karma drone was first unveiled in late 2016, but proved to be an unfinished and expensive product.

After Iceland and Germany, Now France Declares War on the Gender Wage Gap ( 293

France says it wants to make good on at least one-third of its motto of "liberte, egalite, and fraternite," by ensuring pay equality. From a report: The French government announced it is devising a "tough, concrete" plan to make the gender pay gap as much a thing of the past as Madame DeFarge's knitting habit. Per the Associated Press, France's plan for pay equity is still a work in progress. However, legislators may require companies to release the average salaries of their male and female employees and analyze them for disparities.

James Damore Sues Google For Allegedly Discriminating Against Conservative White Men ( 1175

An anonymous reader shares a report: The author of the controversial memo that upended Google in August is suing the company, alleging that white, male conservatives are systematically discriminated against by Google. James Damore was fired as an engineer after a manifesto questioning the benefits of diversity programs was widely passed around the company. In a new lawsuit, he and another fired engineer claim that "employees who expressed views deviating from the majority view at Google on political subjects raised in the workplace and relevant to Google's employment policies and its business, such as 'diversity' hiring policies, 'bias sensitivity,' or 'social justice,' were/are singled out, mistreated, and systematically punished and terminated from Google, in violation of their legal rights."

Apple Updates macOS and iOS To Address Spectre Vulnerability ( 67

Days after Apple disclosed how it would be dealing with the Meltdown bug that affects modern computers, it's pushed out fixes for the Spectre exploit as well. From a report: iOS 11.2.2 includes "Security improvements to Safari and WebKit to mitigate the effects of Spectre," the company writes on its support page, while the macOS High Sierra 10.13.2 Supplemental Update does the same for your Mac laptop or desktop. Installing this update on your Mac will also update Safari to version 11.0.2.

Facebook is Shutting Down M, Its Personal Assistant Service That Combined Humans and AI ( 18

Facebook M, the text-based virtual assistant that used human workers to train an artificial intelligence system, is ending the human-assisted part of the service after two and a half years. From a report: The human-enhanced version of M, which was available through a bot on Facebook Messenger, only ever became available to about 2,000 people living in California. The final day of the will be January 19th, Facebook said, and contractors who worked on it will be offered other jobs at the company. First introduced in August 2015, aspects of the service will live on through M suggestions, which offers fully automated suggestions for payments, making plans, and sending stickers through Messenger. When it launched, Facebook described M as a "beta" and suggested the human-powered assistant would come to more users over time. But it never did. Upon shutting down the human-powered M, Facebook described it as an "experiment."

Microsoft's Meltdown and Spectre Patch Is Bricking Some AMD PCs ( 299

Mark Wilson writes: As if the Meltdown and Spectre bug affecting millions of processors was not bad enough, the patches designed to mitigate the problems are introducing issues of their own. Perhaps the most well-known effect is a much-publicized performance hit, but some users are reporting that Microsoft's emergency patch is bricking their computers. We've already seen compatibility issues with some antivirus tools, and now some AMD users are reporting that the KB4056892 patch is rendering their computer unusable. A further issue -- error 0x800f0845 -- means that it is not possible to perform a rollback.

China Plans To Kill Most of the World's Bitcoin Mining Operations ( 261

The Chinese government will end bitcoin mining operations in the country in the coming months in a move that could have a massive impact on the price of the world's biggest digital currency. From a report: China has been a central player in the development of bitcoin in recent years, but Beijing has spent the last six months cracking down on the cryptocurrency industry -- shutting down local exchanges and banning initial coin offerings. Leaked documents suggest the Chinese government plans an "orderly exit" for bitcoin mining operations in the coming weeks and months. In the documents, issued to the local offices of the internet-finance regulator, authorities were instructed to force mining operations out of business using measures linked to electricity pricing, land use, tax and environmental protection.

AMD Unveils 2nd Gen Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs, 7nm Vega Mobile GPUs At CES ( 97

MojoKid writes: AMD is unveiled a number of upcoming chip products for the new year at CES 2018, including updated next-generation Ryzen and Threadripper desktop processors covering every market segment from mobile to HEDT, and an array of Vega-based graphics products. AMD will be releasing a pair of Ryzen 3-branded mobile APUs for mainstream notebooks. The quad-core / quad-thread Ryzen 3 2300U has base and boost clocks of 2.0GHz and 3.4GHz, respectively, while the dual-core / quad-thread Ryzen 3 2200U clocks-in at 2.5GHz and 3.4GHz, base and boost. Desktop Ryzen APUs, codenamed Raven Ridge, are inbound for the AM4 platform as well. Launching on February 12 are the upcoming Ryzen 5 2400G and Ryzen 3 2200G. The Ryzen 5 chip is a quad-core / eight-thread machine with an on-die, 11 CU Vega graphics core, priced at $169. The Ryzen 3 2200G is a quad-core / quad-thread chip with and 8 CU Vega-based graphics engine for only $99. CPU core frequencies on the Ryzen 5 2400G range from 3.6GHz -- 3.9GHz (base / boost) and the Ryzen 3 2400G clocks-in at 3.5GHz -- 3.7GHz. 2nd-generation Ryzen desktop processors are on the way as well and will be manufactured using an advanced 12nm+ lithography process, leveraging the Zen+ architecture, which is fundamentally unchanged from current Zen-based processors, save for a few tweaks and fixes that improve cache and memory speeds and latency. 2nd-Generation Ryzen processors are NOT based on the Zen 2 architecture. AMD also mentioned that these new processors will be used in a new line-up of 2nd-Generation Threadripper processors. Finally, the company disclosed two new Vega-based GPUs, a Vega Mobile part with a svelte 1.7mm Z-height and second Vega-based chip, which will be manufactured at 7nm that specifically targets machine learning applications. The low-profile Vega Mobile GPU will find its ways into ultra-thin notebooks and mobile workstations, but speeds and feeds weren't disclosed. AMD also announced that it will be supporting variable refresh rate over HDMI 2.1 in the future as well.

What's On Center Stage at the CES Tech Show? Your Voice ( 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Some of the most popular gadgets over the holiday season were smart speakers with digital assistants from Amazon and Google. Apple is coming out with its own speaker this year; Microsoft and Samsung have partnered on another. As the annual CES gadget show kicks off in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are expected to unveil even more voice-controlled devices -- speakers and beyond -- as Amazon and Google make their digital assistants available on a wider array of products. If these prove popular, you'll soon be able to order around much more of your house, including kitchen appliances, washing machines and other devices.

Apple Should Address Youth Phone Addiction, Say Two Large Investors ( 159

Two large Apple shareholders, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, are urging Apple to take steps to address what they say is a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple's iPhones, Jana partner Charles Penner said. From a report: Jana, a leading activist shareholder, and CalSTRS, one of the nation's largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents to limit children's phone use, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Sunday. Jana and CalSTRS also asked Apple to study the impact of excessive phone use on mental health, according to the publication. Jana and CalSTRS together control about $2 billion worth of Apple shares, the Journal reports.

Microsoft Halts Bitcoin Transactions Because It's An 'Unstable Currency' ( 106

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputers: Microsoft has stopped supporting Bitcoin as a payment method for Microsoft products, Bleeping Computer has learned. A Microsoft support staffer has told us the move is temporary and cited the unstable state of the Bitcoin currency. Microsoft added support for Bitcoin in 2014, and has previously temporarily stopped supporting Bitcoin in the past.

Alexa is Coming To Windows 10 PCs From HP, ASUS and Others ( 99

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon's Alexa recently arrived on headphones and even toilets, but it's about to become much more ubiquitous by hitting Windows 10 PCs later this year. HP, ASUS and Acer have revealed that the voice assistant is coming to various models, including ASUS's ZenBook and VivoBook lineup, the HP Pavilion Wave, and select Acer Spin, Swift, Switch and Aspire notebooks. Amazon will release a special Alexa app in the spring, and laptop builders are tapping Intel's Smart Sound tech to make sure that the app can pick up your voice when you're not right next to your PC. "Hands-free access to Alexa on PCs can be helpful to customers in many ways, like making it simple to interact with your smart home, get news or weather, set timers, and more," Amazon Alexa VP Steve Rabuchin said in a statement.

OpenBSD's De Raadt Pans 'Incredibly Bad' Disclsoure of Intel CPU Bug ( 366

troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: Disclosure of the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, which affect mainly Intel CPUs, was handled "in an incredibly bad way" by both Intel and Google, the leader of the OpenBSD project Theo de Raadt claims. "Only Tier-1 companies received advance information, and that is not responsible disclosure -- it is selective disclosure," De Raadt told iTWire in response to queries. "Everyone below Tier-1 has just gotten screwed."
In the interview de Raadt also faults intel for moving too fast in an attempt to beat their competition. "There are papers about the risky side-effects of speculative loads -- people knew... Intel engineers attended the same conferences as other company engineers, and read the same papers about performance enhancing strategies -- so it is hard to believe they ignored the risky aspects. I bet they were instructed to ignore the risk."

He points out this will make it more difficult to develop kernel software, since "Suddenly the trickiest parts of a kernel need to do backflips to cope with problems deep in the micro-architecture." And he also complains that Intel "has been exceedingly clever to mix Meltdown (speculative loads) with a separate issue (Spectre). This is pulling the wool over the public's eyes..."

"It is a scandal, and I want repaired processors for free."

Ask Slashdot: How Should I Replace My Netbook? 232

Long-time Slashdot reader Kevin108 needs to replace his netbook: I've used and loved my Eee 701 for many years. None of the diminutive ergonomics were ever an issue. But the low-res screen, 4 GB SSD, and 630 MHz Celeron are a useless combo for current web browsing and modern software. I'm now in the market for a new device in a similar form factor.

I need a Windows device for my preferred photo editor and some other software I use for maps. It will often be used offline for writing and watching MKVs in VLC. I'm okay with a notebook or tablet and keyboard combo, but I've not found anything in a similar size with my feature requirements.

Any suggestions? Leave your best thoughts and suggestions in the comments. What's the best way to replace a netbook?

Can Mesh Networks Save a Dying Web? ( 201

From an anonymous reader: "The web is dying, but mesh networks could save it," writes open source hacker Andre Staltz. He warns that Facebook, Google, and Amazon plan to "grow beyond browsers, creating new virtual contexts where data is created and shared," and predicts the next wave of walled gardens will be a "social internet" bypassing the web altogether. "The Web may die like most other technologies do, simply by becoming less attractive than newer technologies."

He wants to build a mobile mesh web that works with or without internet access to reach the four billion people currently offline, adding that all the tools we need are already in our hands: smartphones, peer-to-peer protocols, and mesh networks. His vision? "Novel peer-to-peer protocols such as IPFS and Dat help replace HTTP and make the web a content-centered cyberspace... Browsers can be made to work like that, and although it's a small tweak to how the web works, it has massive effects on social structures in cyberspace... Now that we have experience with some of the intricacies of the social web, we can reinvent it to put people first without intermediate companies... We can actually beat the tech giants at this game by simply giving local and regional connectivity to people in developing countries. With mobile apps that are built mesh-first, the smartphones would make up self-organizing self-healing mobile ad-hoc networks... In internet-less regions, there is potential for scaling quickly, and through that, we can spawn a new industry around peer-to-peer wireless mesh networks."

He cites mega-projects "to rescue the web from the internet", which include progress on peer-to-peer and mesh networking protocols, followed by adoption on smartphones (and then a new wave of apps) -- plus a migration of existing web content to the new protocols, "to fix the overutilization of the wirenet and the underutilization of airnets, bringing balance to the wire-versus-air dichotomy, providing choice in how data should travel in each case...But it can only happen if the web takes a courageous step towards its next level."

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