Robotics

Is Sharp's Robot Vacuum Cleaner Vulnerable To Remote Take-over? (jvn.jp) 42

Slashdot reader AmiMoJo reports: Sharp's COCOROBO (heart-bot) vacuum cleaners can not just clean your house. They have cameras that can be viewed from a smart phone, and automatically take pictures of things they find under your sofa. They have microphones and voice recognition, and are able to ask how your day was when you get home from work. You can even activate their speakers and talk to your pets from the office. Unfortunately, so can anyone else if you don't install critical firmware updates.
JPCERT's warning says that the attacker must be on the same LAN to impersonate you, though "as a result, there is a possibility that an arbitrary operation may be conducted."
Earth

Night Being 'Lost' To Artificial Light (bbc.com) 119

An anonymous reader shares a report: A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year. Between 2012 and 2016, the planet's artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2 percent per year. Scientists say a "loss of night" in many countries is having negative consequences for "flora, fauna, and human well-being." A team published the findings in the journal Science Advances. It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world's "brightest nations," such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter. Only a few countries showed a decrease in brightness, such as Yemen and Syria -- both experiencing warfare. The nocturnal satellite images -- of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks -- look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment.
Television

FCC Approves Next-Gen ATSC 3.0 TV Standard (reuters.com) 158

New submitter mikeebbbd writes: "U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the use of new technology that will improve picture quality on mobile phones, tablets and television, but also raises significant privacy concerns by giving advertisers dramatically more data about viewing habits," reports Reuters. ATSC3.0 will apparently make personal data collection and targeted ads possible. New TVs will be necessary, and broadcasters will need to transmit both ATSC 2.0 (the current standard) for 3 to 5 years before turning off the older system. For now, the conversion is voluntary. There appears to be no requirement (as there was when ATSC 2.0 came out) for low-cost adapter boxes to make older TVs work; once a channel goes ATSC 3.0-only, your old TV will not display it any more.
News

Not Every Article Needs a Picture (theoutline.com) 134

An anonymous reader shares an article: Pictures and text often pair nicely together. You have an article about a thing, and the picture illustrates that thing, which in many cases helps you understand the thing better. But on the web, this logic no longer holds, because at some point it was decided that all texts demand a picture. It may be of a tangentially related celeb. It may be a stock photo of a person making a face. It may be a Sony logo, which is just the word SONY. I have been thinking about this for a long time and I think it is stupid. I understand that images -- clicks is industry gospel, but it seems like many publishers have forgotten their sense of pride. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it's hard for me to imagine there'll be much value in the text of an article illustrated by a generic stock image. As with so many problems, social media seems to deserve much of the blame for this. Until the mid-to-late '00s, a publication's homepage played a dominant role in driving people to individual articles. Homepages mostly mimicked the front pages of newspapers, where major stories -- things that warranted investment in original art -- had images. Other stories just got a headline. Over time, the endless space of the internet lowered the standard for which articles needed art, but still, not everything got an image. [...] Even the unflinching belief that people won't read articles if there aren't pictures doesn't hold up to logic. Sure, interesting pictures can attract readers, but most of these images are not interesting. And even if it were slightly better for business, is that really a compromise worth making?
Encryption

How Cloudflare Uses Lava Lamps To Encrypt the Internet (zdnet.com) 110

YouTuber Tom Scott was invited to visit Cloudflare's San Francisco headquarters to check out the company's wall of lava lamps. These decorative novelty items -- while neat to look at -- serve a special purpose for the internet security company. Cloudflare takes pictures and video of the lava lamps to turn them into "a stream of random, unpredictable bytes," which is used to help create the keys that encrypt the traffic that flow through Cloudflare's network. ZDNet reports: Cloudflare is a DNS service which also offers distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack protection, security, free SSL, encryption, and domain name services. Cloudflare is known for providing good standards of encryption, but it seems the secret is out -- this reputation is built in part on lava lamps. Roughly 10 percent of the Internet's traffic passes through Cloudflare, and as the firm deals with so much encrypted traffic, many random numbers are required. According to Nick Sullivan, Cloudfare's head of cryptography, this is where the lava lamps shine. Instead of relying on code to generate these numbers for cryptographic purposes, the lava lamps and the random lights, swirling blobs and movements are recorded and photographs are taken. The information is then fed into a data center and Linux kernels which then seed random number generators used to create keys to encrypt traffic. "Every time you take a picture with a camera there's going to be some sort of static, some sort of noise," Sullivan said. "So it's not only just where the bubbles are flowing through the lava lamp; it is the state of the air, the ambient light -- every tiny change impacts the stream of data." Cloudflare also reportedly uses a "chaotic pendulum" in its London office to generate randomness, and in Singapore, they use a radioactive source.
Businesses

Many Employers Are Using Tools To Monitor Their Staff's Web-browsing Patterns, Keystrokes, Social Media Posts (theguardian.com) 187

Olivia Solon, reporting for The Guardian: How can an employer make sure its remote workers aren't slacking off? In the case of talent management company Crossover, the answer is to take photos of them every 10 minutes through their webcam. The pictures are taken by Crossover's productivity tool, WorkSmart, and combine with screenshots of their workstations along with other data -- including app use and keystrokes -- to come up with a "focus score" and an "intensity score" that can be used to assess the value of freelancers. Today's workplace surveillance software is a digital panopticon that began with email and phone monitoring but now includes keeping track of web-browsing patterns, text messages, screenshots, keystrokes, social media posts, private messaging apps like WhatsApp and even face-to-face interactions with co-workers. Crossover's Sanjeev Patni insists that workers get over the initial self-consciousness after a few days and accept the need for such monitoring as they do CCTV in shopping malls.
United States

The Disappearing American Grad Student (nytimes.com) 268

There are two very different pictures of the students roaming the hallways and labs at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. At the undergraduate level, 80 percent of the students are United States residents. But that number, The New York Times reports, falls below the 20 percent mark when you move to the graduate level (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). From the report: The Tandon School -- a consolidation of N.Y.U.'s science, technology, engineering and math programs on its Brooklyn campus -- is an extreme example of how scarce Americans are in graduate programs in STEM. Overall, these programs have the highest percentage of international students of any broad academic field. In the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were from abroad, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board. In arts and humanities, the figure was about 16 percent; in business, a little more than 18 percent. The dearth of Americans is even more pronounced in hot STEM fields like computer science, which serve as talent pipelines for the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft: About 64 percent of doctoral candidates and almost 68 percent in master's programs last year were international students, according to an annual survey of American and Canadian universities by the Computing Research Association. In comparison, only about 9 percent of undergraduates in computer science were international students (perhaps, deans posit, because families are nervous about sending offspring who are barely adults across the ocean to study).
Communications

Scientists Prove Emoticons Are Not Universally Understood (qz.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The most recent such study, published Oct. 24 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examined how emotions expressed in symbols and pictures are understood in three nations with varying degrees of internet connectivity and access: Japan, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Psychologists from the University of Tokyo tested subjects on how well they recognized emotions in emoticons and photographs. Participants across cultures could read emotion accurately in images of real people regardless of race -- but symbolic tech expression was not universally comprehensible. The study subjects were shown photographs of happy, neutral, and sad Caucasians, Asians, and Africans and told to describe the emotions expressed in the images. Generally, participants accurately assessed the feelings expressed across the board. The researchers noted one difference: African participants tended to confuse Asian neutral and sad faces, "perhaps due to lack of exposure to the out-group [Asian] faces," they suggest.

When it came to symbols, however, the scientists found clear cultural differences in emotion recognition. Subjects from all three countries were given a tablet, on which they were asked to scroll through a series of emoticons. They were shown emoticons in the Japanese style, with happiness, sadness, and neutrality expressed in the eyes; in a western style with emotion expressed in the mouth; and "smiley face" emoticons (pictured above). The Japanese subjects fluently read emotion in emoticons, whereas subjects from Cameroon and Tanzania found emoticons utterly mystifying at similar rates. This was true both for urban and rural dwellers in both African nations. The researchers believe this is due to the varying levels of internet exposure in the three countries.

Social Networks

TechCrunch Argues Social Media News Feeds 'Need to Die' (techcrunch.com) 154

"Feeds need to die because they distort our views and disconnect us from other human beings around us," argues TechCrunch's Romain Dillet: At first, I thought I was missing out on some Very Important Content. I felt disconnected. I fought against my own FOMO. But now, I don't feel anything. What's going on on Instagram? I don't care. Facebook is now the worst internet forum you can find. Twitter is filled with horrible, abusive people. Instagram has become a tiny Facebook now that it has discouraged all the weird, funny accounts from posting with its broken algorithm. LinkedIn's feed is pure spam.

And here's what I realized after forgetting about all those "social" networks. First, they're tricking you and pushing the right buttons to make you check your feed just one more time. They all use thirsty notifications, promote contrarian posts that get a lot of engagement and play with your emotions. Posting has been gamified and you want to check one more time if you got more likes on your last Instagram photo. Everything is now a story so that you pay more attention to your phone and you get bored less quickly -- moving pictures with sound tend to attract your eyes... [F]inally, I realized that I was missing out by constantly checking all my feeds. By putting my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' for days, I discovered new places, started conversations and noticed tiny little things that made me smile.

He concludes that technology has improved the way we learn, communicate, and share information, "But it has gone too far...

"Forget about your phone for a minute, look around and talk with people next to you."
Android

Roku Wants To Start Streaming To Third-Party Devices (variety.com) 25

According to Variety, Roku is looking to start streaming videos on devices made or controlled by competitors like Apple and Google. The company's first foray into streaming on third-party hardware will likely involve mobile devices. From the report: The move could further accelerate Roku's efforts to transition from a hardware-revenue-based to a services-based business model -- a transition that has been in progress for years. Now, it plans to also stream some content on devices that don't run its operating system, with mobile being a likely first step. Key to Roku's expansion into mobile video is going to be the company's existing mobile app, which has already been downloaded tens of millions of times on iOS and Android. The app's current primary function is remote control, as it allows owners of Roku streaming devices and Roku-powered TVs to control these devices directly from their phones. In fact, the app can't currently be operated if there is not a Roku device available on the same Wifi network. This could change soon, as Roku is looking to integrate video playback directly into its mobile app. A first step is likely going to be the integration of the Roku Channel, an ad-supported channel that the company launched last month. The Roku Channel currently offers free, ad-supported access to several hundred movies from major studios like Lionsgate, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. as well as smaller publishers like American Classics, Fandor, FilmRise, Nosey, OVGuide, Popcornflix, Vidmark, and YuYu. However, Roku has been asking publishers to also grant the company the rights to stream their titles on mobile devices, according to a source familiar with these stipulations.
Iphone

With Camera Permission, iPhone Apps Can Surreptitiously Take Pictures and Videos (vice.com) 69

An anonymous reader writes: Whenever you give iPhone apps permission to access your camera, the app can surreptitiously take pictures and videos of you as long as the app is in the foreground, a security researcher warned on Wednesday. This is not a bug, but keep it in mind when a random app asks you for permission to access your camera. What this means is that even if you don't see the camera "open" in the form of an on-screen viewfinder, an app can still take photos and videos. It is unknown how many apps currently do this, but Krause created a test app as a proof-of-concept. This behavior is what enables certain "spy" apps like Stealth Cam and Easy Calc - Camera Eye to exist. But even if this behavior is well-known among iOS developers and hardcore users, it's worth remembering that all apps that have camera permission can technically take photos in this way. "It's something most people have no idea about, as they think the camera is only being used if they see the camera content or a LED is blinking," Krause told Motherboard in a chat over Twitter direct message. Krause currently works at Google, but performed and published this research independently of his work there.
Google

Google Photos Now Recognizes Your Pets (techcrunch.com) 60

Today, Google is introducing an easier way to aggregate your pet photos in its Photos app -- by allowing you to group all your pet's photos in one place, right beside the people Google Photos organized using facial recognition. TechCrunch reports: This is an improvement over typing in "dog," or another generalized term, because the app will now only group together photos of an individual pet together, instead of returning all photos you've captured with a "dog" in them. And like the face grouping feature, you can label the pet by name to more easily pull up their photos in the app, or create albums, movies or photo books using their pictures. In addition, Google Photos lets you type in an animal's breed to search for photos of pets, and it lets you search for photos using the dog and cat emojis. The company also earlier this year introduced a feature that would create a mini-movie starring your pet, but you can opt to make one yourself by manually selecting photos then choosing from a half-dozen tracks to accompany the movie, says Google.
AI

The Google Clips Camera Puts AI Behind the Lens (theverge.com) 150

The Verge's Dieter Bohn reviews Google's AI camera, dubbed "Clips," which was announced alongside the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Here's an excerpt: You know what a digital camera is. It's a lens and a sensor, with a display to see what you're looking at, and a button to take the picture. Google Clips is a camera, but it only has some of those parts. There's no display. There's a shutter button, but it's completely optional to use. Instead, it takes pictures for you, using machine learning to recognize and learn faces and look for interesting moments to record. I don't know if parents -- Google's target market -- will want it. I don't know if Google can find a way to explain everything it is (and isn't) to a broad enough audience to sell the thing in big numbers, especially at $249. I also don't know what the release date will be, beyond that it will be "coming soon." But I do know that it's the most fascinating camera I've used in a very long time.
Android

Google Is Latest Company To Ditch Headphone Jack In Its Newest Smartphones (cultofmac.com) 391

When launching its original Pixel smartphone, Google mocked the iPhone 7's missing headphone jack in its marketing material. According to Cult of Mac, Google won't be doing the same for the Pixel 2. "The company has decided to remove the aging port from its latest handsets," reports Cult of Mac. "A new leak reveals that the lineup will rely solely on USB-C for wired connectivity." From the report: Incredibly reliable leaker Evan Blass has published pictures and details of Google's upcoming Pixel 2 smartphones on VentureBeat. He has also confirmed that neither device will feature a headphone jack, which means users will have to rely on a USB-C adapter or Bluetooth. It also means Google will no longer be able to put out Pixel ads that take sly swipes at the iPhone's missing port. Blass says both Pixel handsets will be powered by a Snapdragon 835 chipset -- the same one found in the Galaxy S8, the LG V30, and other 2017 flagships -- not a faster Snapdragon 836 processor as originally planned. Other features are said to include 12-megapixel cameras, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB or 128GB storage options. The smaller Pixel will pack a 5-inch 1080p display with a 16:9, while its larger sibling will pack a 6-inch Quad HD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. Is the lack of a headphone jack a deal-breaker, or do you think the Pixel's other features, like stock Android and front-facing stereo speakers, will make up for it?
Android

Ask Slashdot: Why Would Anyone Want To Spend $1,000 on a Smartphone? 487

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the $1,000 sticker price for the base model of iPhone X, the latest flagship smartphone from the company which goes on sale next month, is "a value price for the technology that you're getting." An anonymous reader writes: I simply don't understand why anyone would want to spend such amount on a phone. Don't get me wrong. Having a smartphone is crucial in this day and age. I get it. But even a $200 phone, untethered from any carrier contract, will let you install the apps you need, will allow you to take good pictures, surf the web, and listen to music. That handset might not be as fast as the iPhone X or Samsung's new Galaxy Note 8, or it might not be able to take as great pictures, but the difference, I feel, doesn't warrant an additional $800. The reader shares a column: When considering a purchase, comparing the value a product will add to our lives, and its cost is wise. Subjective perceptions affect how we value possessions, but let's consider the practical value of how we use smartphones. Smartphones aren't used for talking as often as the phones that preceded them were. In fact, actual "phone" use ranks below messaging, web surfing, social media and other activities that dominate smartphone usage. Furthermore, statistically we use only six core apps regularly. [...] My point is, smartphones have't changed all that much relatively speaking. Sure they're bigger, faster, more powerful and have awesome cameras. But the iPhone X is fundamentally the same device the earlier iPhones were, and provides the same basic and sought after functions. It's a glass-covered rectangular slab mostly used for messaging, web-surfing, music and social media activity. An individual's perception of self, financial resources, desired or actual social position and love for tech will likely play a role in his perception of the value of a $1,000 smartphone.
AI

A New Zealand Company Built An AI Baby That Plays the Piano (bloomberg.com) 87

pacopico writes: A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. According to a Bloomberg story, the baby has learned to read books, play the piano and draw pictures. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company's CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function. The baby, for example, has virtual dopamine receptors that fire when it feels joy from playing the piano. What could go wrong?
Movies

Disney Is Lone Holdout From Apple's Plan to Sell 4K Movies for $20 (wsj.com) 148

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple has signed new deals to sell movies in ultra high-definition with every major Hollywood studio except the one with which it has long been closest: Walt Disney. At an event Tuesday where he announced the new Apple TV 4K, the tech giant's head of software and services, Eddy Cue, said the device will offer Hollywood movies in the high-resolution format, called either 4K or UHD, for ultra-high definition. Logos for most major studios briefly flashed on a screen behind Mr. Cue, including Time Warner's Warner Bros and Comcast's Universal Pictures. Mr. Cue said those studios' movies will be available in UHD at the same price as high-definition movies. Participating studios have agreed to a maximum price of $19.99 for 4K movies, currently the highest price for HD movies, according to a person with knowledge of the deal making. Apple had pushed studios not to raise film prices above that threshold. The one absence from Apple's list of big studios selling movies in UHD is Disney. It wasn't immediately clear why the company behind Star Wars and Marvel couldn't reach an arrangement with Apple. It currently sells its films in 4K on other digital stores, such as Wal-Mart Stores' Vudu, for $24.99.
Transportation

Google's Street View Cars Are Now Giant, Mobile 3D Scanners (arstechnica.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google's got a hot new ride. The company has a new Street View car with updated cameras, and -- surprisingly -- a set of Lidar (Light, Detection and Ranging) cans! Google doesn't have anything up officially about this, but Wired has the scoop on the new vehicles. The camera system upgrade -- the first in eight years -- greatly improves the image quality while simplifying the rig. In the main ball, Google is down from 15 cameras to seven, making the whole package a lot smaller. These 20MP cameras are aimed all around the car, and the pictures they take are stitched together into a spherical image for Google Maps. There's more to the cars than just the ball though: there are also a pair of "HD" cameras that face directly left and right. These are dedicated to reading street signs, business names, and even posted store hours; those images are funneled to Google's cloud computers for visual processing. The end result of the new cameras will be prettier Street View shots, with higher resolution, better colors, and fewer stitching errors. The better images should also result in more data for Google's various visual feature-detection algorithms.

Wired's report focuses almost entirely on the new cameras, but I think the the most interesting additions are the two LIDAR pucks that hang just below the camera ball. These are the ubiquitous Velodyne VLP-16 "Puck" sensors, allowing the to car "see" in 3D in 360 degrees. These $8,000 Lidar sensors are most commonly used in autonomous car prototypes, so to see them on a Street View car is unexpected. Don't expect the Street View cars to start driving themselves anytime soon -- as Google Street View's Technical Program Manager Steve Silverman says in Wired's video, the Lidar sensors "are used to position us in the world."

Earth

The Solar Eclipse of 2017 Destroyed Lots of Rental Camera Gear (petapixel.com) 140

Despite numerous warnings sent out to renters, a number of LensRental's camera equipment came back damaged and destroyed from the solar eclipse of 2017. PetaPixel provides pictures in a report that shows some of the damage. One photo, for example, "shows a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens that had its aperture blades partially melted by the sun during the eclipse," while another shows a Canon 7D Mark II shutter being burned so bad that "the heat went past it and damaged the sensor behind it as well." LensRentals, one of the leading camera rental companies, writes about the destruction in a blog post on their website: The most common problem we've encountered with damage done by the eclipse was sensors being destroyed by the heat. We warned everyone in a blog post to buy a solar filter for your lens, and also sent out mass emails and fliers explaining what you need to adequately protect the equipment. But not everyone follows the rules, and as a result, we have quite a few destroyed sensors. To my personal surprise, this damage was far more visually apparent than I even expected, and the photos below really make it visible.

The images above are likely created because people were shooting in Live View mode, allowing them to compose the image using the back of their screen, instead of risking damage to their eyes by looking through the viewfinder. However, those who didn't use live view (and hopefully guess and checked instead of staring through the viewfinder), were more likely to face damage to their camera's mirror. While this damage was far rarer, we did get one particular camera with a damaged mirror box caused by the sun.

Books

Terry Pratchett's Hard Drive Destroyed By Steamroller (nytimes.com) 161

WheezyJoe writes: In accordance with his wishes, a hard drive formerly belonging to author Terry Pratchett has been crushed by steamroller. According to friend and fellow author Neil Gaiman, Pratchett (who died at 66 in 2015) wanted "whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all."

According to the article, on August 25, two years after the author's passing, Mr. Pratchett's estate manager and close friend, Rob Wilkins, posted a picture of a hard drive and a steamroller on an official Twitter account they shared. The pictures posted suggest the steamroller was one powered by actual steam.

Minutes later they tweeted a photo of the crushed hard drive -- which will soon be displayed at the Salisbury Museum in England as part of their new exhibit on the life and work of Terry Pratchett.

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