Transportation

Civilian Drone Crashes Into a US Army Helicopter (nypost.com) 5

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Post: It was nearly Black Hawk down over Staten Island -- when an Army chopper was struck by an illegally flying drone over a residential neighborhood, authorities said Friday. The UA60 helicopter was flying 500 feet over Midland Beach alongside another Black Hawk, when the drone struck the chopper at around 8:15 p.m. Thursday, causing damage to its rotor blades. The uninjured pilot was able to land safely at nearby Linden Airport in New Jersey... "Our aircraft was not targeted, this was a civilian drone," said Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, the spokesman for the 82nd Airborne... "One blade was damaged [and] dented in two spots and requires replacement and there is a dented window"... The NYPD and the military are investigating -- but no arrests have been made.
The same day a federal judge struck down an ordinance banning drone flights over private property that had been passed by the city of Newton, Massachusetts. But local law enforcement warned that "an out of control helicopter could have crashed into residential homes causing numerous injuries and even fatalities," while the Post reports that drones have also crashed into a power plant and into the 40th floor of the Empire State Building.

"In February, a GoPro drone crashed through a Manhattan woman's 27th floor window and landed just feet away from her as she sat in her living room."
Earth

Can We Reduce Cow Methane Emissions By Breeding Low-Emission Cattle? (popsci.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Science: Raising cattle contributes to global warming in a big way. The animals expel large amounts of methane when they burp and fart, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. U.S. beef production, in fact, roughly equals the annual emissions of 24 million cars, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That's a lot of methane... Researchers think there may be a better way. Rather than ask people to give up beef, they are trying to design more climate-friendly cattle.

The goal is to breed animals with digestive systems that can create less methane. One approach is to tinker with the microbes that live in the rumen, the main organ in the animals' digestive tract... Scientists in the United Kingdom last year found that a cow's genes influence the makeup of these microbial communities, which include bacteria and also Archaea, the primary producers of methane. This discovery means cattle farmers potentially could selectively breed animals that end up with a lower ratio of Archaea-to-bacteria, thus leading to less methane... "The selection to reduce methane emissions would be permanent, cumulative and sustainable over generations as with any other trait, such as growth rate, milk yield, etc. used in animal breeding." This, over time, "would have a substantial impact on methane emissions from livestock," Roehe said.

Breeding low-emission cattle would also make it cheaper to raise cattle -- and improve the quality of meat.
The Courts

Equifax Hit With 'Dozens' of Lawsuits from Shareholders and Consumers -- Plus a Possible Class Action (chicagotribune.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post: Since it announced a massive data breach earlier this month, Equifax has been hit with dozens of lawsuits from shareholders, consumers and now one filed by a small Wisconsin credit union that represents what could be the first by a financial institution attempting to preemptively recoup losses caused by alleged fraud the hack could cause... In the lawsuit, which seeks class action status, Madison-based Summit Credit Union says that financial institutions will have to bear the cost of canceling and reissuing credit cards as well as absorbing the cost of any fraudulent charges. They will also lose "profits because their members or customers were unwilling or unable to use their credit cards following the breach," according to the lawsuit...

"For financial institutions it is important: They bear the financial responsibility for identity theft," said Summit's attorney Stacey Slaughter of the law firm Robins Kaplan. "All of the components that would allow someone to create a new identity" were exposed in the Equifax hack.

Equifax responded that they can't comment on pending litigation, according to the article, though "Equifax has said it did its best to respond to the breach and alerted consumers as quickly as it could..."

"The company's stock price has fallen 27 percent since it announced the hack September 7."
Businesses

Amazon Starts Charging For Cloud Computing Resources By the Second (amazon.com) 29

AmiMoJo writes: "Back in the old days, you needed to buy or lease a server if you needed access to compute power," remembers Amazon's AWS blog. "When Amazon launched EC2 back in 2006, the ability to use an instance for an hour, and to pay only for that hour, was big news. The pay-as-you-go model inspired our customers to think about new ways to develop, test, and run applications of all types."

But now from the 2nd of October, Amazon will start billing Linux virtual machines by the second, with a one minute minimum.

Patents

Cloudflare Pays First $7,500 Bounties In War Against Patent Troll (cloudflare.com) 19

Cloudflare declared war on a group of lawyers that files patent lawsuits against tech firms, by offering bounties for the discovery of patent-invalidating "prior art." Now an anonymous reader writes: On Thursday, Cloudflare announced it has paid out the first $7,500 to people who discovered documents that could help invalidate Blackbird's patents. The money is part of a $100,000 war chest the company announced this spring... The company said it is ready to launch individual challenges to specific Blackbird patents. The company believes it has enough examples of prior art on US Patent 7,797,448, "GPS-internet Linkage" and US Patent 6,453,335 (the one asserted against Cloudflare) to lodge a challenge.
"We have received more than 230 submissions so far," Cloudflare reports, "and have only just begun to scratch the surface."
United States

Governments Turn Tables By Suing Public Records Requesters (apnews.com) 93

schwit1 quotes the AP: Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests -- taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who must then pursue the records in court at their own expense.

The lawsuits generally ask judges to rule that the records being sought do not have to be divulged. They name the requesters as defendants but do not seek damage awards. Still, the recent trend has alarmed freedom-of-information advocates, who say it's becoming a new way for governments to hide information, delay disclosure and intimidate critics. "This practice essentially says to a records requester, 'File a request at your peril,'" said University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters, who wrote about the issue for the Columbia Journalism Review in 2015, before several more cases were filed. "These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government."

Security

ARM TrustZone Hacked By Abusing Power Management (acolyer.org) 43

"This is brilliant and terrifying in equal measure," writes the Morning Paper. Long-time Slashdot reader phantomfive writes: Many CPUs these days have DVFS (Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling), which allows the CPU's clockspeed and voltage to vary dynamically depending on whether the CPU is idling or not. By turning the voltage up and down with one thread, researchers were able to flip bits in another thread. By flipping bits when the second thread was verifying the TrustZone key, the researchers were granted permission. If number 'A' is a product of two large prime numbers, you can flip a few bits in 'A' to get a number that is a product of many smaller numbers, and more easily factorable.
"As the first work to show the security ramifications of energy management mechanisms," the researchers reported at Usenix, "we urge the community to re-examine these security-oblivious designs."
AI

Are Companies Overhyping AI? (hackaday.com) 135

When it comes to artificial intelligence, "companies have been overselling the concept and otherwise normal people are taking the bait," writes Hackaday: Not to pick on Amazon, but all of the home assistants like Alexa and Google Now tout themselves as AI. By the most classic definition, that's true. AI techniques include matching natural language to predefined templates. That's really all these devices are doing today. Granted the neural nets that allow for great speech recognition and reproduction are impressive. But they aren't true intelligence nor are they even necessarily direct analogs of a human brain... The danger is that people are now getting spun up that the robot revolution is right around the corner...

[N]othing in the state of the art of AI today is going to wake up and decide to kill the human masters. Despite appearances, the computers are not thinking. You might argue that neural networks could become big enough to emulate a brain. Maybe, but keep in mind that the brain has about 100 billion neurons and almost 10 to the 15th power interconnections. Worse still, there isn't a clear consensus that the neural net made up of the cells in your brain is actually what is responsible for conscious thought. There's some thought that the neurons are just control systems and the real thinking happens in a biological quantum computer... Besides, it seems to me if you build an electronic brain that works like a human brain, it is going to have all the problems a human brain has (years of teaching, distraction, mental illness, and a propensity for error).

Citing the dire predictions of Elon Musk and Bill Gates, the article argues that "We are a relatively small group of people who have a disproportionate influence on what our friends, families, and co-workers think... We need to spread some sense into the conversation."
Star Wars Prequels

Saudi Arabian Textbook Shows Yoda Joining The UN (bbc.com) 75

Long-time Slashdot reader Mikkeles quotes the BBC: Saudi Arabia's education minister has apologised for the production of a school textbook in which the Star Wars character Yoda is seen superimposed on a photograph of the late King Faisal... The image, which shows the diminutive Jedi Master sitting beside King Faisal as he signs the UN Charter in 1945, was created by the Saudi artist Shaweesh. He told the BBC it was not yet clear how it had ended up in the textbook... The 2013 artwork, entitled United Nations (Yoda), is part of a series in which symbols of American pop culture -- ranging from Captain America to Darth Vader -- are superimposed onto archive photos of historical events... Shaweesh said he included Yoda because, like King Faisal, he was "wise, strong and calm".
"Someone should have checked the image before printing," he added.
Security

Experian Criticized Over Credit-Freeze PIN Security and 'Dark Web' Scans (theverge.com) 49

Security researcher Brian Krebs complains that Experian's identity-protecting credit freezes are easily unfrozen online. An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Experian makes it easy to undo a credit freeze, resetting a subject's PIN through an easily accessible account recovery page. That page only asks for a person's name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number...data [that] was compromised in the Equifax breach, as well as other breaches, so we can probably assume hackers possess this information. After entering that data, attackers then just have to enter an email address -- any email -- and answer a few security questions.

That might not jump out as insecure; security questions exist for a reason. But the questions themselves are easy to answer, particularly if you know how to use the internet and a search bar. Krebs says sample questions include asking users to identify cities where they've previously lived and the people that resided with them. Much of that information is available through a person's own social media accounts, search engines, or Yellow Pages-like databases, including Spokeo and Zillow... In response to Krebs' report, Experian claims that it goes beyond the measures identified to authenticate users. "While we do not disclose those additional processes," said the company in a statement, "they include a broad array of checks that are not visible to the consumer."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Experian is also advertising a "free scan of the dark Web" which actually binds anyone who accepts it to their 17,600-word terms of service, as well as acceptance of "advertisements or offers" from financial products companies -- plus "an arbitration clause preventing you from suing the company" which a spokesperson acknowledges could remain in effect for several years.
Books

Inside Amazon's Warehouses: Thousands of Senior Citizens and the Occasional Robot Mishap (wired.com) 120

Amazon aggressively recruited thousands of retirees living in mobile homes to migrate to Amazon's warehouses for seasonal work, according to a story shared by nightcats. Wired reports:From a hiring perspective, the RVers were a dream labor force. They showed up on demand and dispersed just before Christmas in what the company cheerfully called a "taillight parade." They asked for little in the way of benefits or protections. And though warehouse jobs were physically taxing -- not an obvious fit for older bodies -- recruiters came to see CamperForce workers' maturity as an asset. These were diligent, responsible employees. Their attendance rates were excellent. "We've had folks in their eighties who do a phenomenal job for us," noted Kelly Calmes, a CamperForce representative, in one online recruiting seminar... In a company presentation, one slide read, "Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four workampers in the United States will have worked for Amazon."
The article is adapted from a new book called "Nomadland," which also describes seniors in mobile homes being recruited for sugar beet harvesting and jobs at an Iowa amusement park, as well as work as campground hsots at various national parks. Many of them "could no longer afford traditional housing," especially after the financial downturn of 2008.

But at least they got to hear stories from their trainers at Amazon about the occasional "unruly" shelf-toting "Kiva" robot: They told us how one robot had tried to drag a worker's stepladder away. Occasionally, I was told, two Kivas -- each carrying a tower of merchandise -- collided like drunken European soccer fans bumping chests. And in April of that year, the Haslet fire department responded to an accident at the warehouse involving a can of "bear repellent" (basically industrial-grade pepper spray). According to fire department records, the can of repellent was run over by a Kiva and the warehouse had to be evacuated.
Programming

'Tetris' Recreated In Conway's 'Game of Life' (stackexchange.com) 75

In 1970 mathematician John Conway created rules for the "Game of Life," a now famous "zero-player game" where a grid of cells evolves (following Conway's rules) from an initial state proposed by the player. In 2013 someone challenged readers of StackExchange's "Programming Puzzles & Code Golf" section to devise an initial state "that will allow for the playing of a game of Tetris."

An anonymous Slashdot reader reports that "This challenge sat around, gathering upvotes but no answer, for four years. Then, it was answered." Citing the work of seven contributors, a massive six-part response says their solution took one and a half years to create, and "began as a quest but ended as an odyssey." The team created their own assembly language, known as QFTASM (Quest for Tetris Assembly) for use within Conway's mathematical universe, and then also designed their own processor architecture, and eventually even a higher-level language that they named COGOL. Their StackExchange response includes a link to all of their code on GitHub, as well as to a page where you can run the code online.

One StackExchange reader hailed the achievement as "the single greatest thing I've ever scrolled through while understanding very little."
Government

Spain's Crackdown on Catalonia Includes Internet Censorship (internetsociety.org) 281

Spain's autonomous Catalonia region wants to hold a referendum on independence next weekend. Spain's Constitutional Court insists that that vote is illegal, and has taken control of Catalonia's police force to try to stop the vote. They're deploying thousands of additional police officers and have seized nearly 10 million ballots. And now the Internet Society has gotten involved, according to an announcement shared by Slashdot reader valinor89: Measures restricting free and open access to the Internet related to the independence referendum have been reported in Catalonia. There have been reports that major telecom operators have been asked to monitor and block traffic to political websites, and following a court order, law enforcement has raided the offices of the .cat registry in Barcelona, examining a computer and arresting staff.

We are concerned by reports that this court order would require a top-level domain (TLD) operator such as .cat to begin to block "all domains that may contain any kind of information about the referendum."

Programming

Do Strongly Typed Languages Reduce Bugs? (acolyer.org) 326

"Static vs dynamic typing is always one of those topics that attracts passionately held positions," writes the Morning Paper -- reporting on an "encouraging" study that attempted to empirically evaluate the efficacy of statically-typed systems on mature, real-world code bases. The study was conducted by Christian Bird at Microsoft's "Research in Software Engineering" group with two researchers from University College London. Long-time Slashdot reader phantomfive writes: This study looked at bugs found in open source Javascript code. Looking through the commit history, they enumerated the bugs that would have been caught if a more strongly typed language (like Typescript) had been used. They found that a strongly typed language would have reduced bugs by 15%.

Does this make you want to avoid Python?

Communications

Microsoft and Facebook Just Built a 4,000-Mile Cable Across the Pacfic Ocean (popularmechanics.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Mechanics: Microsoft, Facebook and global telecommunication infrastructure company Telxius have completed the Marea subsea cable, the world's most technologically advanced undersea cable. The Marea crosses the Atlantic Ocean over 17,000 feet below the ocean's surface, connecting Virginia Beach with Bilbao, Spain. Over 4,000 miles (6,600 kilometers) long and weighing nearly 10.25 million pounds (4.65 million kilograms), the Marea can transmit up to 160 terabits of data per second, which Microsoft notes is "more than 16 million times faster than the average home internet connection, making it capable of streaming 71 million high-definition videos simultaneously."
The undersea cable -- about 1.5 times the diameter of a garden hose -- contains eight pairs of fiber optic cables encircled by copper, a protective layer of hard plastic, and then waterproof coating. Its 4,000-mile route had to avoid everything from earthquake zones to active volcanoes.

Cables under the Atlantic Ocean carry 55% more data than cables under the Pacific, Microsoft writes, adding that "the project highlights the increasing role of private companies in building the infrastructure of the future."

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