Businesses

Jack In the Box CEO Says 'It Just Makes Sense' To Replace Workers With Robots (grubstreet.com) 1012

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Grub Street: Per Business Insider, Jack in the Box CEO Leonard Comma told an industry crowd that "it just makes sense" to swap cashiers for inanimate machines in the year 2018. Not because he thinks 2018 will be the year that fast food gets technologized so much as it's the year that Jack in the Box's home state of California increases the minimum wage to $11. In fact, wage bumps hit 18 states this year, with California on pace to become the first $15-wage state in coming years -- a prospect that terrifies industry executives. Jack in the Box has flirted with the idea of installing automated kiosks before. As early as 2009, it tested them out, and apparently found that they increase store efficiency and average check totals -- not bad at all if money's your bottom line. But according to Comma, the chain's executives balked because the upfront cost of converting from people to machines was still too great. What a difference a dollar an hour apparently makes: He told the crowd that with "the rising costs of labor," it's time to start thinking about automating restaurants.
AT&T

AT&T and Comcast Finalize Court Victory Over Nashville and Google Fiber (arstechnica.com) 122

"AT&T and Comcast have solidified a court victory over the metro government in Nashville, Tennessee, nullifying a rule that was meant to help Google Fiber compete against the incumbent broadband providers," reports Ars Technica. From the report: The case involved Nashville's "One Touch Make Ready" ordinance that was supposed to give Google Fiber and other new ISPs faster access to utility poles. The ordinance let a single company make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles itself instead of having to wait for incumbent providers like AT&T and Comcast to send work crews to move their own wires. But AT&T and Comcast sued the metro government to eliminate the rule and won a preliminary victory in November when a U.S. District Court judge in Tennessee nullified the rule as it applies to poles owned by AT&T and other private parties.

The next step for AT&T and Comcast was overturning the rule as it applies to poles owned by the municipal Nashville Electric Service (NES), which owns around 80 percent of the Nashville poles. AT&T and Comcast achieved that on Friday with a new ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger. Nashville's One Touch Make Ready ordinance "is ultra vires and void or voidable as to utility poles owned by Nashville Electric Service because adoption of the Ordinance exceeded Metro Nashville's authority and violated the Metro Charter," the ruling said. Nashville is "permanently enjoined from applying the Ordinance to utility poles owned by Nashville Electric Service." The Nashville government isn't planning to appeal the decision, a spokesperson for Nashville Mayor Megan Barry told Ars today.

Power

Tesla's New York Gigafactory Kicks Off Solar Roof Production (bloomberg.com) 103

In an email Tuesday, Tesla said that its manufacturing of the long-awaited electricity-producing shingles began last month at a factory in Buffalo built with backing from New York State. It comes more than a year after Tesla unveiled the shingles to a mix of fanfare and skepticism. Bloomberg reports: The appeal: a sleek, clean solar product, especially for homeowners seeking to replace aging roofs. The tiles -- from most angles -- look like ordinary shingles. They allow light to pass from above and onto a standard flat solar cell. Tesla, the biggest U.S. installer of rooftop-solar systems, piloted the product on the homes of several employees. The company expects to begin installing roofs for customers within the next few months.

Tesla started production of solar cells and panels about four months ago at its Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo. New York committed $750 million to help build the 1.2 million-square-foot factory, which currently employs about 500 people. The plant will eventually create nearly 3,000 jobs in Western New York and nearly 5,000 statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2015.

Government

Senate Bill to Block Net Neutrality Repeal Now Has 40 Co-Sponsors (thehill.com) 106

New submitter Rick Schumann writes: The senate bill to block the FCC repeal of Obama-era internet net neutrality rules now has 40 co-sponsors, up from the 30 co-sponsors it had yesterday. The bill, being driven by Senate minority Democrats, requires only a simple majority vote in order to be passed, although Washington insiders are currently predicting the bill will fail. "The bill would use authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to block the FCC's repeal from going into effect," reports The Hill. "And with more than 30 senators on board, the legislation will be able to bypass the committee approval process and Democrats will be able to force a vote on the floor."
Privacy

UK Backs Off From Banning Reidentification Research (theguardian.com) 10

An anonymous reader writes: The United Kingdom has recently debated banning reidentification in its new data privacy law. This proposal has quickly been identified as dangerous and criticized, as it was argued this is not only ineffective but would also put at risk legitimate security and privacy researchers. Following public outcry, the UK government amended the bill to include safe-guards allowing researchers to study anonymization weaknesses. Researchers will also gain a new channel of disclosure via the Information Commissioner Office (ICO). According to The Guardian, "Researchers will have to notify the ICO within three days of successfully deanonymizing data, and demonstrate that they had acted in the public interest and without intention to cause damage or distress in re-identifying data."
Bitcoin

Kodak Announces Its Own Cryptocurrency, Watches Stock Price Skyrocket (theverge.com) 135

Kodak has joined the cryptocurrency craze by launching its own KodakCoin, a cryptocurrency for photographers. As soon as the news was announced, Kodak's stock (KODK) jumped more than 60 percent. The Verge reports: KodakCoins will work as tokens inside the new blockchain-powered KodakOne rights management platform. The platform will supposedly create a digital ledger of rights ownership that photographers can use to register and license new and old work. Both the platform and cryptocurrency are supposed to "empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management," according to the press release. The digital currency is meant to create a new economy for photographers to receive payment and sell work on a secure platform. But while Kodak's proposed blockchain-powered platform and virtual coin sound good on paper, it's not clear why the photography company needs to use blockchain to achieve its goals, rather than just create another social media platform instead. It appears that Kodak, like the other tea and vape companies that received media attention last month for making the abrupt leap to blockchain, could just be trying to capitalize on the current cryptocurrency mania.
IOS

Apple Planning New, 'Robust' Parental Controls To Help Protect Children, Teens (arstechnica.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: An open letter to Apple from some investors sparked the tech giant to respond by promising new software tools for parents to restrict and monitor their kids' smartphone use. In a report by The Wall Street Journal, Apple states it has plans to create new software features that will make its current parental controls on iPhone and other devices "even more robust." "We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them," Apple said in its statement to The Wall Street Journal. "We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids."

Apple didn't provide details on its planned, improved parental control features, but it did point back to the controls its software has had in place since 2008. The Settings app on every iPhone has a parental control section that allows adults to restrict website access, control in-app purchases, and install or delete apps, among other things. But those existing settings haven't been enough to quell the worries of the investors who wrote an open letter to Apple last week, expressing concern about the effect smartphones can have on kids who are glued to those devices.

Communications

James Dolan, Co-Creator of SecureDrop, Dead At 36 (gizmodo.com) 188

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is reporting that James Dolan, former Marine and co-creator of the whistleblower submission system SecureDrop alongside Aaron Swartz and Wired editor Kevin Poulsen, has died at age 36. He reportedly took his own life. Gizmodo reports: First deployed as StrongBox with The New Yorker, organizations such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Gizmodo Media Group have all come to rely on SecureDrop -- which allows highly secure communication between journalists and sources in possession of sensitive information or documents. As an industry tool, it has become invaluable for reporters. Dolan joined the Freedom of the Press Foundation to maintain SecureDrop after co-creator Aaron Swartz took his life in 2013 at age 26, as pressure mounted in a federal investigation against him that many felt was overzealous. Memorial services have not yet been announced, and presently the circumstances of Dolan's death are not known.
Bitcoin

A Crypto Website Changes Its Data, and $100 Billion in Market Value Vanishes (wsj.com) 69

Paul Vigna, writing for WSJ: Prices for some of the most popular cryptocurrencies dropped sharply Monday. One apparent reason: an adjustment from a popular website on its digital-currency price quotes (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). A website called coinmarketcap.com on Monday removed data from some South Korean exchanges from its price quotes for a range of virtual currencies including bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple's XRP. The move followed a South Korean government crackdown on cryptocurrencies. The move by coinmarketcap caused some amount of chaos when prices across the board suddenly plunged. In mid-Monday trading, XRP had fallen 26% over the past 24 hours, Bitcoin Cash was down 18%, and litecoin was down 12%. Of the top 40 cryptocurrencies, 31 were down, including bitcoin and Ethereum. [...]

Coinmarketcap has become one of the most popular destinations for price quotes as the sector surged last year. According to Amazon's web-ranking service, coinmarketcap is currently the 154th most popular website in the world, in the same ballpark as Chinese retail giant Alibaba.com. The website's rejiggered prices led to a flip in market-value rankings on the site. Ethereum, with a $109 billion total market valuation, moved into second place, the spot previously occupied by XRP, which fell to third place with a $97 billion market value. Bitcoin remained number one, with a $255 billion market value.

Software

Dell's Mobile Connect Application Will Allow Users To Easily Mirror Their Smartphone on PC; To Come Pre-installed On Company's Future PCs (venturebeat.com) 60

From a report on VentureBeat: Smartphones and computers were designed in different eras, and they don't really work well together, forcing us to split our time between them. But Dell is trying to change that with Dell Mobile Connect software, which makes the two devices more interoperable. [...] You can now make and receive phone calls directly from your computer, and you can also send and receive text messages on your PC screen. This allows you to stay connected on your PC without worrying that you're missing phone notifications or calls. And you can use any Android app on your PC. That allows you to bring your small-screen apps like games to a bigger screen. If your computer doesn't have a touchscreen, you can control the mirrored phone game with a keyboard and mouse. [...] Dell will preload the software on new Dell consumer and business PCs, and it has a free smartphone app that works on either Android or iOS. Dell Mobile Connect will be available on all new Dell Inspiron, XPS, Vostro, or Alienware purchased worldwide in January 2018 or later.
Google

'The Web is Not Google, and Should Not be Just Google': Developers Express Concerns About AMP (ampletter.org) 99

A group of prominent developers published an open-letter on Tuesday, outlining their deep concerns about Accelerated Mobile Pages, a project by Google that aims to improve user experience of the Web. Google services already dominate the Web, and the scale at which AMP is growing, it could further reinforce Google's dominance of the Web, developers wrote. The letter acknowledges that web pages could be slow at times, but the solutions out there to address them -- AMP, Facebook's Instant Articles, Apple News -- are creating problems of their own, developers say. From the letter: Search engines are in a powerful position to wield influence to solve this problem. However, Google has chosen to create a premium position at the top of their search results (for articles) and a "lightning" icon (for all types of content), which are only accessible to publishers that use a Google-controlled technology, served by Google from their infrastructure, on a Google URL, and placed within a Google controlled user experience. The AMP format is not in itself, a problem, but two aspects of its implementation reinforce the position of Google as a de facto standard platform for content, as Google seeks to drive uptake of AMP with content creators: Content that "opts in" to AMP and the associated hosting within Google's domain is granted preferential search promotion, including (for news articles) a position above all other results. When a user navigates from Google to a piece of content Google has recommended, they are, unwittingly, remaining within Google's ecosystem.

If Google's objective with AMP is indeed to improve user experience on the Web, then we suggest some simple changes that would do that while still allowing the Web to remain dynamic, competitive and consumer-oriented: Instead of granting premium placement in search results only to AMP, provide the same perks to all pages that meet an objective, neutral performance criterion such as Speed Index. Publishers can then use any technical solution of their choice. Do not display third-party content within a Google page unless it is clear to the user that they are looking at a Google product. It is perfectly acceptable for Google to launch a "news reader," but it is not acceptable to display a page that carries only third party branding on what is actually a Google URL, nor to require that third party to use Google's hosting in order to appear in search results. We don't want to stop Google's development of AMP, and these changes do not require that.

Science

Super-Black Is the New Black (theatlantic.com) 101

Feathers on birds of paradise contain light-trapping nanotechnology that makes some of the deepest blacks in the world, a new study has found. From a report: Blackbirds, it turns out, aren't actually all that black. Their feathers absorb most of the visible light that hits them, but still reflect between 3 and 5 percent of it. For really black plumage, you need to travel to Papua New Guinea and track down the birds of paradise. Although these birds are best known for their gaudy, kaleidoscopic colors, some species also have profoundly black feathers. The feathers ruthlessly swallow light and, with it, all hints of edge or contour. By analyzing museum specimens, Dakota McCoy, from Harvard University, has discovered exactly how the birds achieving such deep blacks. It's all in their feathers' microscopic structure.

A typical bird feather has a central shaft called a rachis. Thin branches, or barbs, sprout from the rachis, and even thinner branches -- barbules -- sprout from the barbs. The whole arrangement is flat, with the rachis, barbs, and barbules all lying on the same plane. The super-black feathers of birds of paradise, meanwhile, look very different. Their barbules, instead of lying flat, curve upward. And instead of being smooth cylinders, they are studded in minuscule spikes. These unique structures excel at capturing light. When light hits a normal feather, it finds a series of horizontal surfaces, and can easily bounce off. But when light hits a super-black feather, it finds a tangled mess of mostly vertical surfaces. Instead of being reflected away, it bounces repeatedly between the barbules and their spikes. With each bounce, a little more of it gets absorbed. Light loses itself within the feathers. McCoy and her colleagues, including Teresa Feo from the National Museum of Natural History, showed that this light-trapping nanotechnology can absorb up to 99.95 percent of incoming light.

Microsoft

Microsoft Details Performance Impact of Spectre and Meltdown Mitigations on Windows Systems (microsoft.com) 237

Microsoft's Windows chief Terry Myerson on Tuesday outlined how Spectre and Meltdown firmware updates may affect PC performance. From a blog post: With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don't expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.

With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance. With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.

Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel.

Facebook

Facebook Dives into Home Device Market with Video Chat Product Named 'Portal', Report Says (cheddar.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is about to jump into the consumer hardware business in a big way with a video chat device named "Portal," which will put it in direct competition with Amazon's hugely popular line of Echo voice-controlled devices, Cheddar has learned. The device is designed to work in the home and represents Facebook's first serious foray into selling consumer hardware, people familiar with the matter said. Rather than position the device as a smart assistant akin to Amazon's Echo speakers, Facebook intends to pitch Portal as a way for families and friends to stay connected through video chatting and other social features. Facebook plans a formal product introduction in early May at its annual developer conference and hopes to ship the device in the second half of 2018.
Wireless Networking

With WPA3, Wi-Fi Security is About To Get a Lot Tougher (zdnet.com) 121

One of the biggest potential security vulnerabilities -- public Wi-Fi -- may soon get its fix. From a report: The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry body made up of device makers including Apple, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, announced Monday its next-generation wireless network security standard, WPA3. The standard will replace WPA2, a near-two decades-old security protocol that's built in to protect almost every wireless device today -- including phones, laptops, and the Internet of Things.

One of the key improvements in WPA3 will aim to solve a common security problem: open Wi-Fi networks. Seen in coffee shops and airports, open Wi-Fi networks are convenient but unencrypted, allowing anyone on the same network to intercept data sent from other devices. WPA3 employs individualized data encryption, which scramble the connection between each device on the network and the router, ensuring secrets are kept safe and sites that you visit haven't been manipulated.
Further reading: WPA3 WiFi Standard Announced After Researchers KRACKed WPA2 Three Months Ago
Encryption

FBI Chief Calls Unbreakable Encryption 'Urgent Public Safety Issue' (reuters.com) 442

The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an "urgent public safety issue," FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday in remarks that sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security. From a report: The FBI was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency's work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York. "This is an urgent public safety issue," Wray added, while saying that a solution is "not so clear cut."
Government

Snowden Joins Outcry Against World's Biggest Biometric Database (bloomberg.com) 36

Former U.S. intelligence-contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden joined critics of India's digital ID program as the nation's top court is due to decide on its legality. From a report: Snowden on Tuesday tweeted in support of an Indian journalist who faces police charges after she reported that personal details of over a billion citizens enrolled in the program could be illegally accessed for just $8 paid through a digital wallet. Named Aadhaar, the program is backed by the world's biggest biometric database, which its operator Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, says wasn't breached. Snowden tweeted, "The journalists exposing the Aadhaar breach deserve an award, not an investigation. If the government were truly concerned for justice, they would be reforming the policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians. Want to arrest those responsible? They are called @UIDAI."
Microsoft

Microsoft Pauses Rollout of Spectre and Meltdown Patches To AMD Systems (betanews.com) 100

Microsoft is suspending patches to guard against Meltdown and Spectre security threats for computers running AMD chipsets after complaints by AMD customers that the software updates froze their machines. From a report: The company is blaming AMD's failure to comply with "the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown." There's no word on when the patches will be fixed, but Microsoft says that it is working with AMD to address the problem.
Windows

Microsoft Says No More Windows Security Updates Unless AVs Set a Registry Key (bleepingcomputer.com) 136

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Microsoft has added a new and very important detail on the support page describing incompatibilities between antivirus (AV) products and the recent Windows Meltdown and Spectre patches. According to an update added this week, Microsoft says that Windows users will not receive the January 2018 Patch Tuesday security updates, or any subsequent Patch Tuesday security updates, unless the antivirus program they are using becomes compatible with the Windows Meltdown and Spectre patches. The way antivirus programs become compatible is by updating their product and then adding a special registry key to the Windows Registry. The presence of this registry key tells the Windows OS the AV product is compatible and will trigger the Windows Update that installs the Meltdown and Spectre patches that address critical flaws in the design of modern CPUs.
Medicine

Ibuprofen Linked To Male Infertility, Study Says (theguardian.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Men who take high doses of ibuprofen for months at a time may be at greater risk of fertility issues and also other health problems, such as muscle wastage, erectile dysfunction and fatigue, scientists have found. Research on healthy young men who took the common painkiller for up to six weeks showed that the drug disrupted the production of male sex hormones and led to a condition normally seen in older men and smokers. The 18 to 35-year-olds who took part in the study developed a disorder called "compensated hypogonadism" within two weeks of having 600mg of ibuprofen twice a day. The condition arises when the body has to boost levels of testosterone because normal production in the testes has fallen. Doctors in Copenhagen who led the study said that while the disorder was mild and temporary in the volunteers, they feared it could become permanent in long-term ibuprofen users. This would lead to continuously low levels of testosterone, because the body could no longer compensate for the fall. Details of the study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Graphics

Nvidia's GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC (theverge.com) 100

The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel's Wi-Fi. I didn't notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown's Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it's aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There's obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don't live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn't reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn't normally handle such games.
Crime

Apple Investigated By France For 'Planned Obsolescence' (bbc.com) 313

AmiMoJo shares a report from the BBC: French prosecutors have launched a probe over allegations of "planned obsolescence" in Apple's iPhone. Under French law it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product with the aim of making customers replace it. In December, Apple admitted that older iPhone models were deliberately slowed down through software updates. It follows a legal complaint filed in December by pro-consumer group Stop Planned Obsolescence (Hop). Hop said France was the third country to investigate Apple after Israel and the U.S., but the only one in which the alleged offense was a crime. Penalties could include up to 5% of annual turnover or even a jail term.

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