Bug

Planting GMOs Kills So Many Bugs That It Helps Non-GMO Crops (arstechnica.com) 282

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: One of the great purported boons of GMOs is that they allow farmers to use fewer pesticides, some of which are known to be harmful to humans or other species. Bt corn, cotton, and soybeans have been engineered to express insect-killing proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, and they have indeed been successful at controlling the crops' respective pests. They even protect the non-Bt versions of the same crop that must be planted in adjacent fields to help limit the evolution of Bt resistance. But new work shows that Bt corn also controls pests in other types of crops planted nearby, specifically vegetables. In doing so, it cuts down on the use of pesticides on these crops, as well.

Entomologists and ecologists compared crop damage and insecticide use in four agricultural mid-Atlantic states: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Their data came from the years before Bt corn was widespread (1976-1996) and continued after it was adopted (1996-2016). They also looked at the levels of the pests themselves: two different species of moths, commonly known as the European corn borer and corn earworm. They were named as scourges of corn, but their larvae eat a number of different crops, including peppers and green beans. After Bt corn was planted in 1996, the number of moths captured for analysis every night in vegetable fields dropped by 75 percent. The drop was a function of the percentage of Bt corn planted in the area and occurred even though moth populations usually go up with temperature. So the Bt corn more than counteracted the effect of the rising temperatures we've experienced over the quarter century covered by the study.

The Internet

Bali Plans To Switch Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year 'Quiet Reflection' (theguardian.com) 150

Internet service providers in Bali will be switching off mobile services this weekend for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island's annual day of silence. "Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island," reports The Guardian. "Even the international airport shuts down." From the report: This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug -- a request Bali says firms have promised to honor. "It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed," Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta. This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut.
Communications

Verizon Will Fix Broadband Networks, Landlines To Resolve Investigation (vice.com) 74

Joel Hruska reports via ExtremeTech: Verizon has reached an agreement with the Communications Workers of America and the New York State Public Service Commission to begin repairing infrastructure and restoring service across New York State. The agreement requires Verizon to extend broadband service to tens of thousands of New York State households and to begin repairing facilities it has previously neglected. As in Pennsylvania, Verizon has been neglecting its fixed wired infrastructure in its bid to first sabotage copper service, then force customers to adopt alternative solutions. It's also been mired in an ongoing lawsuit with the state of New York over its breach of a 2008 contract requiring it to provide fiber service within New York City.

This new agreement appears to settle these issues, provided it's followed. Under its terms, Verizon will extend fiber to 10,000 to 12,000 households not currently served by it in Long Island and Verizon's "Upstate Reporting Region" (these are Verizon-specific regions, not geographical areas, so "Long Island" may mean more than just the island). It will begin immediately replacing copper lines in certain specific NYC buildings with high failure rates and transitioning them to fiber optic cable, repairing operations within 50 upstate wireless centers with high failure rates, allow plant technicians to report plant failures and maintenance needs more accurately, and begin inspecting and replacing the batteries that provide critical connectivity in the event of a power outage when said batteries are deployed for specific customers (hospitals, police stations, and other emergency facilities). It will also begin removing so-called "double poles." A double pole is when an old telephone pole is stapled (metaphorically speaking) to a newer one. Some examples of a double pole from PA are shown below; Verizon has been hauled into court to force it to do its job in more than one state.

Android

Android Wear Needs More Than a New Name To Fight Apple Watch (cnet.com) 90

Less than two months before Google I/O, Google has rebranded its Android Wear watch platform to "Wear OS." The recent name change is part of a move to have its watches stand apart from Android, but it could also indicate that Google's smartwatch strategy is about to shift. Google may release a completely new Wear OS focused on the Google Assistant or a Google-branded smartwatch. Scott Stein writes via CNET that Android Wear needs more than a new name to fight the Apple Watch: The Apple Watch took over the top spot in global wearable sales recently, according to IDC, despite the fact that it's only compatible with iPhones. Fitbit just announced the Versa, a promising casual smartwatch that will interface with any iPhone or Android and starts at just $200. The wearable market is growing. But where is Google in that picture? The Fossil Group, maker of many of the Android Wear watch products last year, reported some promising numbers: "In 2017, Fossil Group nearly doubled its wearables business to more than $300 million, including 20 percent of watch sales in Q4," said Greg McKelvey, Fossil's chief strategy and digital officer, as part of Google's Wear OS announcement. So it sounds like Android Wear -- sorry, Wear OS -- is still in the game. But the problem, for me, is that I've never found Android Wear watches to be particularly great. Google relaunched Android Wear over a year ago with new software and added fitness smarts, plus standalone phone functions. But Apple's watch strategy has advanced faster, with better hardware. The Apple Watch S3 can be a phone, now. So can Samsung's Gear S3, which runs on Tizen. Google, meanwhile, stopped adding cellular functions to watches after the lackluster LG Watch Sport last year.
Games

Daily Dose of Violent Video Games Causes 'No Significant Changes' In Behavior, Study Finds (arstechnica.com) 192

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play. Most scientific studies on the effects of video game violence measure participants right after the completion of a gameplay session, when the adrenaline prompted by the on-screen action is likely still pumping. Researcher Simone Kuhn and her co-authors argue that "effects observed only for a few minutes after short sessions of video gaming are not representative of what society at large is actually interested in, namely how habitual violent video game play affects behavior on a more long-term basis." To correct for the "priming" effects inherent in these other studies, researchers had 90 adult participants play either Grand Theft Auto V or The Sims 3 for at least 30 minutes every day over eight weeks (a control group played no games during the testing period). The adults chosen, who ranged from 18 to 45 years old, reported little to no video game play in the previous six months and were screened for pre-existing psychological problems before the tests. Over 208 separate comparisons (52 tests; violent vs. non-violent and control groups; pre- vs. post- and two-months-later tests), only three subjects showed a statistically significant effect of the violent gameplay at a 95 percent confidence level. Pure chance would predict more than 10 of the 208 comparisons would be significant at that level, leading the researchers to conclude "that there were no detrimental effects of violent video game play."
EU

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) (github.com) 110

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.
Apple

Apple Bans Iran from the App Store (bleepingcomputer.com) 58

Iranian users have not been able to access Apple's App Store all day today, in what appears to be a ban put in place by the US company. From a report: According to reports and sources who spoke with Bleeping Computer, the ban appears to have been put in place earlier today, around noon, GMT. Users were not able to connect to the Apple App Store to install or update applications. When visiting the App Store, they were instead greeted with the message "The App Store is unavailable in the country or region you're in." This ban appears to be IP-based. Meysam Firouzi -- an Iranian security researcher -- told Bleeping Computer that he successfully connected to the App Store while using a VPN, despite having Iran-related details set on his account.
Security

Linus Torvalds Slams CTS Labs Over AMD Vulnerability Report (zdnet.com) 115

Earlier this week, CTS Labs, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup claimed it has discovered critical security flaws in AMD chips that could allow attackers to access sensitive data from highly guarded processors across millions of devices. Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator doesn't buy it. ZDNet reports: Torvalds, in a Google+ discussion, wrote: "When was the last time you saw a security advisory that was basically 'if you replace the BIOS or the CPU microcode with an evil version, you might have a security problem?' Yeah." Or, as a commenter put it on the same thread, "I just found a flaw in all of the hardware space. No device is secure: if you have physical access to a device, you can just pick it up and walk away. Am I a security expert yet?" CTS Labs claimed in an interview they gave AMD less than a day because they didn't think AMD could fix the problem for "many, many months, or even a year" anyway. Why would they possibly do this? For Torvalds: "It looks more like stock manipulation than a security advisory to me."

These are real bugs though. Dan Guido, CEO of Trail of Bits, a security company with a proven track-record, tweeted: "Regardless of the hype around the release, the bugs are real, accurately described in their technical report (which is not public afaik), and their exploit code works." But, Guido also admitted, "Yes, all the flaws require admin [privileges] but all are flaws, not expected functionality." It's that last part that ticks Torvalds off. The Linux creator agrees these are bugs, but all the hype annoys the heck out of him. Are there bugs? Yes. Do they matter in the real world? No. They require a system administrator to be almost criminally negligent to work. To Torvalds, inflammatory security reports are annoying distractions from getting real work done.

Businesses

Walmart Whistleblower Claims Cheating In Race With Amazon (bloomberg.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: In its race to catch Amazon.com in online retailing, Walmart issued misleading e-commerce results and fired an executive who complained the company was breaking the law, according to a whistle-blower lawsuit. Tri Huynh, a former director of business development at Walmart, claims he was terminated "under false pretenses" after repeatedly raising concerns about the company's "overly aggressive push to show meteoric growth in its e-commerce business by any means possible -- even, illegitimate ones." Under Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, Walmart has invested billions to catch up with Amazon in e-commerce over the past few years, and last year enjoyed quarterly online sales growth rates surpassing 50 percent, well above peers that include Target and Best Buy Huynh claims Walmart mislabeled products so that some third-party vendors received lower commissions, failed to process customer returns, and allowed offensive items onto the site. Huynh's dismissal in January 2017 -- just a day after a retail-industry publication singled him out as one of the sector's rising stars -- was in retaliation for warning senior executives about the misdeeds, he said in the lawsuit, filed Thursday by employment litigation attorney David M. deRubertis in San Francisco federal court.
United States

US Says Russia Hacked Energy Grid, Punishes 19 for Meddling (apnews.com) 229

Associated Press: Pushing back harder on Russia, the Trump administration accused Moscow on Thursday of a concerted hacking operation targeting the U.S. energy grid, aviation systems and other infrastructure, and also imposed sanctions on Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 election. It was the strongest action to date against Russia by the administration, which has long been accused of being too soft on the Kremlin, and the first punishments for election meddling since President Donald Trump took office. The sanctions list included the 13 Russians indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose Russia investigation the president has repeatedly sought to discredit. U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors. Further reading: Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors (US-Cert); U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid, other sectors (Reuters); U.S. says Russian hackers targeted American energy grid (Politico); Trump administration finally announces Russia sanctions over election meddling (CNN); U.S. sanctions on Russia cite 2016 election interference -- but remain largely symbolic (USA Today); U.S. Sanctions Russians Charged by Mueller for Election Meddling (Bloomberg); and Trump Administration Sanctions Russians for Election Meddling and Cyberattacks (The New York Times).
Bitcoin

Bitcoin's Highly Anticipated 'Lightning Network' Goes Live (thehill.com) 132

Lightning Labs on Thursday announced the beta release of its highly-anticipated Lightning Network Daemon (LND), a developer-friendly software client used to access Bitcoin's Lightning Network, anonymous readers wrote, citing media reports. From a report: Bitcoin supporters believe that the network has the potential to help the cryptocurrency achieve mass adoption. Bitcoin has struggled in recent months with slow and high-fee transactions, which make it harder for bitcoin to achieve mainstream popularity. Lightning Labs, the company behind the network, also announced on Thursday that it has received investments from major financial technology players, including Square chief executive and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and PayPal chief operating officer David Sacks.
Censorship

Encrypted Email Service ProtonMail is Being Blocked in Turkey (protonmail.com) 35

ProtonMail: We have confirmed that Internet service providers in Turkey have been blocking ProtonMail this week. Our support team first became aware of connectivity problems for Turkish ProtonMail users starting on Tuesday. After further investigation, we determined that protonmail.com was unreachable for both Vodafone Turkey mobile and fixed line users. Since then, we have also received some sporadic reports from users of other Turkish ISPs. At one point, the issue was prevalent in every single major city in Turkey. After investigating the issue along with members of the ProtonMail community in Turkey, we have confirmed this is a government-ordered block rather than a technical glitch. Internet censorship in Turkey tends to be fluid so the situation is constantly evolving. Sometimes ProtonMail is accessible, and sometimes it is unreachable. For the first time ever though, we have confirmed that ProtonMail was subject to a block, and could face further issues in the future. In the post, ProtonMail has also outlined ways to bypass the block.
Intel

Intel Says 'Partitions' in New Chips Will Correct the Design Flaw that Created Spectre and Meltdown (geekwire.com) 68

Intel said on Thursday it is introducing hardware protections against the Spectre CPU flaw that was discovered last year. From a report: Starting with the Cascade Lake version of its Xeon server processors later this year, Intel will incorporate "protective walls" in its hardware that prevent malicious hackers from using speculative execution techniques to steal private information from the secure part of the processor. These fixes will also ship with the PC version of the Cascade Lake chips, but the tech industry has been much more concerned about the effect of these design flaws on server processors running in data centers and cloud vendors.

The new fixes allow Intel to still benefit from the performance advantages of speculative execution -- in which a processor guesses which upcoming instructions it will need to execute in order to speed things up -- without the security risks. The hardware changes address Variants 2 and 3 of the Spectre and Meltdown issues first disclosed in early January, and software fixes should continue to address Variant 1, Intel said.

Businesses

Largest US Radio Company iHeartMedia Files For Bankruptcy (reuters.com) 159

The largest U.S. radio station owner, iHeartMedia, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it "struggles with $20 billion in debt and falling revenue at its 858 radio stations," reports Reuters. The company has reportedly reached an agreement with holders of more than $10 billion of its outstanding debt for a balance sheet restructuring, which will reduce its debt by more than $10 billion. From the report: Cash on hand and cash generated from ongoing operations will be sufficient to fund the business during the bankruptcy process, said iHeartMedia, which owns Z100 in New York and Real 103.5 KISS FM in Chicago. The filing comes after John Malone's Liberty Media Corp proposed on Feb. 26 a deal to buy a 40 percent stake in a restructured iHeartMedia for $1.16 billion, uniting the company with Liberty's Sirius XM Holdings Inc satellite radio service. Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia, and its units did not commence Chapter 11 proceedings. The company had 14,300 employees at the end of 2016, according to its most recent annual report.
Businesses

Digg Reader To Shut Down This Month -- Latest RSS Service To Bite the Dust (betanews.com) 109

Digg announced this week that it's shutting down Digg Reader, an app which allows users to follow RSS feeds from sites. From a report: Following the closure of Google Reader, RSS fans flocked to the likes of Feedly, The Old Reader, Digg Reader and Inoreader. Now Digg Reader has announced that it is to close, and users are being advised to export their feeds so they can be imported into an alternative service. Users do not have a great deal of time to grab their data and take it elsewhere. The RSS reader is due to close on March 26, meaning there's less than two weeks to go. No reason has been given for the closure, but presumably the venture either didn't prove as popular as expected, or it was rather more costly to run than anticipated.
Security

Can AMD Vulnerabilities Be Used To Game the Stock Market? (vice.com) 106

Earlier this week, a little-known security firm called CTS Labs reported, what it claimed to be, severe vulnerabilities and backdoors in some AMD processors. While AMD looks into the matter, the story behind the researchers' discovery and the way they made it public has become a talking point in security circles. The researchers, who work for CTS Labs, only reported the flaws to AMD shortly before publishing their report online. Typically, researchers give companies a few weeks or even months to fix the issues before going public with their findings. To make things even stranger, a little bit over 30 minutes after CTS Labs published its report, a controversial financial firm called Viceroy Research published what they called an "obituary" for AMD. Motherboard reports: "We believe AMD is worth $0.00 and will have no choice but to file for Chapter 11 (Bankruptcy) in order to effectively deal with the repercussions of recent discoveries," Viceroy wrote in its report. CTS Labs seemed to hint that it too had a financial interest in the performance of AMD stock. "We may have, either directly or indirectly, an economic interest in the performance of the securities of the companies whose products are the subject of our reports," CTS Labs wrote in the legal disclaimer section of its report.

On Twitter, rumors started to swirl. Are the researchers trying to make money by betting that AMD's share price will go down due to the news of the vulnerabilities? Or, in Wall Street jargon, were CTS Labs and Viceroy trying to short sell AMD stock? Security researcher Arrigo Triulzi speculated that Viceroy and CTS Lab were profit sharing for shorting, while Facebook's chief security officer Alex Stamos warned against a future where security research is driven by short selling.

[...] There's no evidence that CTS Labs worked with Viceroy to short AMD. But something like that has happened before. In 2016, security research firm MedSec found vulnerabilities in pacemakers made by St. Jude Medical. In what was likely a first, MedSec partnered with hedge fund Muddy Waters to bet against St. Jude Medical's stock. For Adrian Sanabria, director of research at security firm Threatcare and a former analyst at 451 Research, where he covered the cybersecurity industry, trying to short based on vulnerabilities just doesn't make much sense. While it could work in theory and could become more common in the future, he said in a phone call, "I don't think we've seen enough evidence of security vulnerabilities really moving the stock for it to really become an issue."
Further reading: Linus Torvalds slams CTS Labs over AMD vulnerability report (ZDNet).
Medicine

Scientists Create a Way For People With Amputations To Feel Their Prosthetics (gizmodo.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like a living limb as they move. The researchers recruited people with amputations who had been given surgery that reconfigured certain muscle and sensory nerves surrounding the amputated limb, allowing them to control their prosthesis through intuitive brain signals (thoughts) sent to the repurposed nerves. Across a series of experiments involving three of these patients, the researchers attached devices that generated vibrations along specific muscles near the amputation site. When the device was turned on, these vibrations created an illusionary sense of kinesthesia -- an awareness of conscious self-movement -- in the prosthetic hand as the person performed tasks with it, both in a virtual stimulation and in the real world. The volunteers had amputations that extended just past their elbow as well as their whole arm. Not only did the experiment let them "feel" their hand as they opened and closed it, but the restored intuition allowed them to perform tasks without needing to constantly look at their hand. And coupled with vision, it gave them overall better motor control over their prosthesis.
Android

Samsung Will Begin Offering Same-Day Repairs On Galaxy Phones This Week (bgr.com) 19

hyperclocker shares a report from BGR: Samsung announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with uBreakiFix to bring same-day, in-person phone repairs to Galaxy device owners across the United States. Starting on March 15th, Samsung customers will be able to bring their phones to any of more than 300 uBreakiFix service locations and have their devices repaired on the spot and usually within two hours or less. Samsung plans to expand the program throughout 2018 as well. Galaxy owners will have the option to either schedule an appointment at a uBreakiFix location, or just drop the phone off without calling ahead. Samsung assures customers that all uBreakiFix repair centers will have genuine Samsung parts, proprietary Samsung tools for the repairs, and conduct repairs by Samsung certified pros.
Space

All Disk Galaxies Rotate Once Every Billion Years (astronomy.com) 89

According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass. Astronomy Magazine reports: To carry out the study, the researchers measured the radial velocities of neutral hydrogen in the outer disks of a plethora of galaxies -- ranging from small dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. These galaxies differed in both size and rotational velocity by up to a factor of 30. With these radial velocity measurements, the researchers were able to calculate the rotational period of their sample galaxies, which led them to conclude that the outer rims of all disk galaxies take roughly a billion years to complete one rotation. However, the researchers note that further research is required to confirm the clock-like spin rate is a universal trait of disk galaxies and not just a result of selection bias. Based on theoretical models, the researchers also expected to find only sparse populations of young stars and interstellar gas on the outskirts of these galaxies. But instead, they discovered a significant population of much older stars mingling with the young stars and gas.
Businesses

How Amazon Became Corporate America's Nightmare (bloomberg.com) 243

Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg that details Amazon's rapid growth in the last three years: Amazon makes no sense. It's the most befuddling, illogically sprawling, and -- to a growing sea of competitors -- flat-out terrifying company in the world. It sells soap and produces televised soap operas. It sells complex computing horsepower to the U.S. government and will dispatch a courier to deliver cold medicine on Christmas Eve. It's the third-most-valuable company on Earth, with smaller annual profits than Southwest Airlines Co., which as of this writing ranks 426th. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person, his fortune built on labor conditions that critics say resemble a Dickens novel with robots, yet he has enough mainstream appeal to play himself in a Super Bowl commercial. Amazon was born in cyberspace, but it occupies warehouses, grocery stores, and other physical real estate equivalent to 90 Empire State Buildings, with a little left over. The company has grown so large and difficult to comprehend that it's worth taking stock of why and how it's left corporate America so thoroughly freaked out. Executives at the biggest U.S. companies mentioned Amazon thousands of times during investor calls last year, according to transcripts -- more than President Trump and almost as often as taxes. Other companies become verbs because of their products: to Google or to Xerox. Amazon became a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be Amazoned means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. And fear of being Amazoned has become such a defining feature of commerce, it's easy to forget the phenomenon has arisen mostly in about three years.

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