The Almighty Buck

Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine? (vice.com) 106

dmoberhaus writes: In 1974, Stephen Hawking made a bet with Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist Kip Thorne about a black hole. The wager was a subscription to the softcore porn magazine Penthouse for Thorne or a subscription to "Private Eye" (basically the British equivalent of The Onion) for Hawking. Hawking ultimately lost the bet, but did he ever pay up? Motherboard dug around to find out if Hawking settled this infamous bet.

Motherboard's Daniel Oberhaus wasn't able to get ahold of Thorne, but did manage to track down a copy of the obscure 1997 straight-to-VHS documentary called Black Holes, which is the only evidence that the wager even happened. "In 1990, Stephen Hawking happened to be visiting Los Angeles and he broke into my office and thumb printed off on this bet," Thorne recalls in the video. Oberhaus writes: "Although the status of Cygnus X-1 was an open question in the 70s, by the 90s mounting evidence had forced Hawking to concede the wager. The bet was recorded in a handwritten note scrawled on a piece of card which is shown in the film. It read: 'Whereas Stephen Hawking has a large investment in general relativity and black holes and desires an insurance policy, and whereas Kip Thorne likes to live dangerously without an insurance policy, therefore be it resolved that Stephen Hawking bets 1 year's subscription to 'Penthouse' as against Kip Thorne's wager of a 4-year subscription to 'Private Eye,' that Cygnus X-1 does not contain a black hole of mass above the Chandrasekhar limit.' 'I had given Thorne a subscription to Penthouse, much to his wife's disgust,' a smiling Hawking says in the film."

Encryption

Telegram Loses Supreme Court Appeal In Russia, Must Hand Over Encryption Keys (bloomberg.com) 217

Telegram has lost a bid before Russia's Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users' data, giving President Vladimir Putin a victory in his effort to keep tabs on electronic communications. Bloomberg reports: Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova on Tuesday rejected Telegram's appeal against the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency which last year asked the company to share its encryption keys. Telegram declined to comply and was hit with a fine of $14,000. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Telegram now has 15 days to provide the encryption keys. Telegram, which is in the middle of an initial coin offering of as much as $2.55 billion, plans to appeal the ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to the company's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev. Any decision to block the service would require a separate court ruling, the lawyer said.

Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram challenged an auxiliary order by the Federal Security Service, claiming that the procedure doesn't involve a court order and breaches constitutional rights for privacy, according to documents. The security agency, known as the FSB, argued in court that obtaining the encryption keys doesn't violate users' privacy because the keys by themselves aren't considered information of restricted access. Collecting data on particular suspects using the encryption would still require a court order, the agency said.

Security

Orbitz Says Legacy Travel Site Likely Hacked, Affecting 880,000 Credit Cards (usnews.com) 29

hyperclocker shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: Orbitz says a legacy travel booking platform may have been hacked, possibly exposing the personal information of people that made certain purchases between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2017. Orbitz said Tuesday about 880,000 payment cards were impacted. Data that was likely exposed includes name, payment card information, date of birth, phone number, email address, physical and/or billing address and gender. The company said evidence suggests an attacker may have accessed information stored on the platform -- which was for both consumers and business partners -- between Oct. 1, 2017 and Dec. 22, 2017. "Orbitz said it worked with a forensic investigation firm, cybersecurity experts, and law enforcement once the breach was discovered in order to 'eliminate and prevent unauthorized access to the platform,'" reports The Verge. "The company also notes that its current site, Orbitz.com, wasn't affected. It is notifying customers who may have been impacted and is offering a year of free credit monitoring."
Medicine

Patients Regain Sight After Groundbreaking Trial (bbc.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Doctors have taken a major step towards curing the most common form of blindness in the UK -- age-related macular degeneration. Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but "I can now read the newspaper" with it, he says. He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Cells from a human embryo were grown into a patch that was delicately inserted into the back of the eye.

The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see straight ahead -- whether to recognize faces, watch TV or read a book. The macula is made up of rods and cones that sense light and behind those are a layer of nourishing cells called the retinal pigment epithelium. When this support layer fails, it causes macular degeneration and blindness. Doctors have devised a way of building a new retinal pigment epithelium and surgically implanting it into the eye. The technique, published in Nature Biotechnology, starts with embryonic stem cells. These are a special type of cell that can become any other in the human body. They are converted into the type of cell that makes up the retinal pigment epithelium and embedded into a scaffold to hold them in place. The living patch is only one layer of cells thick -- about 40 microns -- and 6mm long and 4mm wide. It is then placed underneath the rods and cones in the back of the eye. The operation takes up to two hours.

AI

Machine Learning Spots Treasure Trove of Elusive Viruses (nature.com) 28

Artificial intelligence could speed up metagenomic studies that look for species unknown to science. From a report: Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6,000 previously unknown species of virus. The work illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Although viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, they are hard to study. Scientists cannot grow most viruses in the lab, and attempts to identify their genetic sequences are often thwarted because their genomes are tiny and evolve fast.

For the latest study, Simon Roux, a computational biologist at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in Walnut Creek, California, trained computers to identify the genetic sequences of viruses from one unusual family, Inoviridae. These viruses live in bacteria and alter their host's behaviour: for instance, they make the bacteria that cause cholera, Vibrio cholerae, more toxic. But Roux, who presented his work at the meeting in San Francisco, California, organized by the JGI, estimates that fewer than 100 species had been identified before his research began. Roux presented a machine-learning algorithm with two sets of data -- one containing 805 genomic sequences from known Inoviridae, and another with about 2,000 sequences from bacteria and other types of virus -- so that the algorithm could find ways of distinguishing between them.

Cellphones

There Are Still 100,000 Pay Phones In the US (cnn.com) 97

According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States, and about a fifth of those are in New York. The number has decreased rapidly over the last couple decades as cellphones have been adopted by 95% of Americans. CNN reports of how these remaining pay phones still remain a steady business for some of the 1,100 companies operating them across the country: Pay phone providers reported $286 million in revenue in 2015, according to the most recent FCC report. They can still be profitable, particularly in places where there isn't cell phone or landline coverage, said Tom Keane, president of Pacific Telemanagement Services. Keane's company operates 20,000 pay phones around the country. "We have phones in Yosemite Valley that are extremely busy when there's not snow on the ground," he said. Victor Rollo said he is still making money off his 170 phones in the San Diego area. Rollo declined to say how much, but he believes pay phones are a lifeline for people who don't have other options and are valuable during emergencies or natural disasters. Rollo says he evaluates how many calls are made on the phones every month, how far away they are from each other, and how much his expenses are per month to determine whether to keep them in the ground. Phones in hospitals and along the border, where cell coverage is weak, are some of his most profitable ones.
Businesses

Amazon Considers Buying Some Toys R Us Stores (bloomberg.com) 61

According to Bloomberg, Amazon has looked at the possibility of expanding its retail footprint by acquiring some locations from bankrupt Toys R Us. "The online giant isn't interested in maintaining the Toys R Us brand, but has considered using the soon-to-be-vacant spaces for its own purposes," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Such a move would let Amazon quickly expand its brick-and-mortar presence, coming on the heels of buying Whole Foods and its more than 450 locations last year. The Seattle-based company also has opened its own line of bookstores and a convenience-store concept. Additional stores would give Amazon space to showcase its popular Echo line of devices, which run on the Alexa voice-activated platform. Amazon sees voice as the next interface for people to access technology -- supplanting computer mouses and touch screens -- and the benefits may be easier to demonstrate in a real-world setting. A bigger network of stores would put inventory closer to where shoppers live, potentially enabling quick delivery to e-commerce customers. The space could also serve as a staging ground for grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores. Amazon is already planning to roll out free two-hour service to Whole Foods customers in four cities, including Dallas and Cincinnati.
Businesses

Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company (cnbc.com) 33

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.
Transportation

Police Chief: Uber Self-Driving Car 'Likely' Not At Fault In Fatal Crash (arstechnica.com) 527

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The chief of the Tempe Police has told the San Francisco Chronicle that Uber is likely not responsible for the Sunday evening crash that killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident," said Chief Sylvia Moir. Herzberg was "pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags," according to the Chronicle's Carolyn Said, when she "abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic." After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Moir concluded that "it's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway." Moir added that "it is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available." The police said that the vehicle was traveling 38 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, according to the Chronicle -- though a Google Street View shot of the roadway taken last July shows a speed limit of 45 miles per hour along that stretch of road.
Medicine

How a Virus Spreads Through an Airplane Cabin (gizmodo.com) 76

An anonymous reader shares a report: Traveling by plane greatly increases our chances of getting sick, or so many of us are wont to believe. To be fair, it's not uncommon to come down with a nasty illness after we return from a vacation or business trip. But is flying the culprit? The latest research suggests the answer is no -- but much of it depends on where we sit. New research published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that airline passengers infected with influenza -- a disease that spreads through the air -- aren't likely to infect other passengers who sit more than two seats to the left or right, or more than two seats in front or back. In other words, your chances of contracting the flu from an infected passenger are slim -- unless you're sitting within about three feet (one meter) of them. Given that three billion of us fly annually, combined with the popular conception that we often contract diseases inflight, it's surprising to learn that very few studies have looked into this issue in detail.
Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg AWOL From Facebook's Data Leak Damage Control Session (thedailybeast.com) 165

An anonymous reader writes: It's not just that he's silent in public. Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg declined to face his employees on Tuesday to explain the company's role in a widening international scandal over the 2016 election. Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-and-answer session about Facebook's role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. But Zuckerberg himself wasn't there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform. Further reading: Where in the world is Mark Zuckerberg? Frustrated Facebook execs are asking.
Robotics

African Manufacturing Jobs Could be Threatened by US Based Robots, Report Says (bbc.com) 90

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns. From the report: Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies. Some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, however the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests otherwise. But its report adds African nations have time to prepare for the change. "African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation," said Karishma Banga a senior research officer at ODI. "If done well, automation can present important opportunities for African countries by improving labour productivity in manufacturing," she said. It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.
Businesses

Hackathons Are Dystopian Events That Dupe People Into Working For Free, Say Sociologists (fastcompany.com) 155

An anonymous reader writes: That's the conclusion that two sociologists came to after observing seven hackathons over the period of one year, reports Wired. In "Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the 'New' Economy," sociologists Sharon Zukin and Max Papadantonakis argue that companies use the allure of hackathons to get people to work for free. They says sponsors fuel the "romance of digital innovation by appealing to the hackers' aspiration to be multi-dimensional agents of change" when in fact the hackathons are just a means of labor control.
Bitcoin

The NSA Worked To 'Track Down' Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal (theintercept.com) 60

An anonymous reader shares a report: Classified documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world -- and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to "help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins," according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged NSA's ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.

Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, "Bitcoin is #1 priority," a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated. The documents indicate that "tracking down" Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin's public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users' computers. The NSA collected some Bitcoin users' password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users' internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify "BITCOIN Targets."

Bitcoin

Child Abuse Imagery Found Within Bitcoin's Blockchain (theguardian.com) 321

German researchers have discovered unknown persons are using bitcoin's blockchain to store and link to child abuse imagery, potentially putting the cryptocurrency in jeopardy. From a report: The blockchain is the open-source, distributed ledger that records every bitcoin transaction, but can also store small bits of non-financial data. This data is typically notes about the trade of bitcoin, recording what it was for or other metadata. But it can also be used to store links and files. Researchers from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany found that around 1,600 files were currently stored in bitcoin's blockchain. Of the files least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content, 142 of which link to dark web services. "Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal," the researchers wrote. "Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users. This especially endangers the multi-billion dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin."
Google

Google Launches a News Initiative To Fight False News and Help Publishers Make Money (cnbc.com) 103

Google is launching the Google News Initiative, a journalism-focused program that will help publishers earn revenue and combat fake news. From a report: The initiative, announced Tuesday, will offer publications another monetization model online called Subscribe with Google, as well as work with established universities and groups to combat misinformation. It will also introduce an open-source tool called Outline, which will make it easier for news organizations to set up secure access to the internet for their journalists. Google said it was committing $300 million over the next three years to the project, though it did not elaborate on how the resources would be spent.

The company said it paid $12.6 billion to news organizations and drove 10 billion clicks a month to their websites for free last year. Subscribe with Google will make it easier for readers to pay for content from news organizations that have agreed to partner with the company. FT.com, The Washington Post, and McClatchy Company publications including the Miami Herald are among the 17 launch partners.

Facebook

FTC Probing Facebook For Use of Personal Data: Bloomberg (bloomberg.com) 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree of its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time. If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.
Open Source

LG Releases Open-Sourced Version of webOS in Hopes To Push It Beyond TVs and Smart Refrigerators (theverge.com) 96

LG has released an open-sourced version of webOS that's freely available to anyone that wants to download and poke around the code. From a report: The release of webOS Open Source Edition is meant to act as a catalyst to drive further adoption of webOS beyond LG televisions, smart refrigerators, and the occasional never-to-be-released smartwatch. So, devices like webOS tablets and set-top boxes as pictured in the LG-supplied image above. This is the second time an open-source version of webOS has been released, the first coming under the failed tenure of HP back in 2011. LG's cross-town rival Samsung develops and uses the open-sourced Tizen operating system on a variety of devices including smartwatches, televisions, Blu-ray players, and robotic vacuums.
China

China Approves Giant Propaganda Machine To Improve Global Image (bloomberg.com) 157

China has approved the creation of one of the world's largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. From the report: The new broadcaster will be called "Voice of China," the person said, mimicking the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that started up during World War II to advance American interests. Bloomberg News had previously reported the new entity would be created through merging China Central Television, China Radio International and China National Radio. The combined group was designed to strengthen the party's ability to shape public opinion and would serve as a key vehicle for China to project its image to the world.
Graphics

NVIDIA RTX Technology To Usher In Real-Time Ray Tracing Holy Grail of Gaming Graphics (hothardware.com) 159

HotHardware writes: NVIDIA has been dabbling in real-time ray tracing for over a decade. However, the company just introduced NVIDIA RTX, which is its latest effort to deliver real-time ray tracing to game developers and content creators for implementation in actual game engines. Historically, the computational horsepower to perform real-time ray tracing has been too great to be practical in actual games, but NVIDIA hopes to change that with its new Volta GPU architecture and the help of Microsoft's new DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API enhancements. Ray tracing is a method by which images are enhanced by tracing rays or paths of light as they bounce in and around an object (or objects) in a scene. Under optimum conditions, ray tracing delivers photorealistic imagery with shadows that are correctly cast; water effects that show proper reflections and coloring; and scenes that are cast with realistic lighting effects. NVIDIA RTX is a combination of software (the company's Gameworks SDK, now with ray tracing support), and next generation GPU hardware. NVIDIA notes its Volta architecture has specific hardware support for real-time ray tracing, including offload via its Tensor core engines. To show what's possible with the technology, developers including Epic, 4A Games and Remedy Entertainment will be showcasing their own game engine demonstrations this week at the Game Developers Conference. NVIDIA expects the ramp to be slow at first, but believes eventually most game developers will adopt real-time ray tracing in the future.
Medicine

Lead Exposure Kills Hundreds of Thousands of Adults Every Year in the US, Study Finds (theguardian.com) 220

Bruce66423 shares a report from The Guardian: Last week, a massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five U.S. deaths. Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official U.S. survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths of them had harbored levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe. The study found that deaths, especially from cardiovascular disease, increased markedly with exposure, even at the lowest levels. It concluded that lead kills 412,000 people a year -- accounting for 18% of all U.S. mortality, not much less than the 483,000 who perish as a result of smoking. The study has been published in the Lancet Public Health journal.
Bitcoin

New York Power Companies Can Now Charge Bitcoin Miners More (arstechnica.com) 128

Last Wednesday, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) ruled that municipal power companies could charge higher electricity rates to cryptocurrency miners who try to benefit from the state's abundance of cheap hydroelectric power. Ars Technica reports: Over the years, Bitcoin's soaring price has drawn entrepreneurs to mining. Bitcoin mining enterprises have become massive endeavors, consuming megawatts of power on some grids. To minimize the cost of that considerable power draw, mining companies have tried to site their operations in towns with cheap electricity, both in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., regions with the cheapest energy tend to be small towns with hydroelectric power. But mining booms in small U.S. towns are not always met with approval. A group of 36 municipal power authorities in northern and western New York petitioned the PSC for permission to raise electricity rates for cryptocurrency miners because their excessive power use has been taxing very small local grids and causing rates to rise for other customers. The PSC responded on Wednesday that it would allow those local power companies to raise rates for cryptocurrency miners. The response noted that New York's local power companies, which are customer-owned and range in size from 1.5 MW to 122 MW, "acquire low-cost power, typically hydro, and distribute the power to customers at no profit." If a community consumes more than what has been acquired, cost increases are passed on to all customers. "In Plattsburgh, for example, monthly bills for average residential customers increased nearly $10 in January because of the two cryptocurrency companies operating there," the PSC document says. The city of Plattsburgh, New York has since imposed an 18-month moratorium on commercial cryptocurrency mining to "protect and enhance the city's natural, historic, cultural and electrical resources."

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