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Bitcoin

Bitcoin's Price Was Artificially Inflated Last Year, Researchers Say (nytimes.com) 207

A concentrated campaign of price manipulation may have accounted for at least half of the increase in the price of Bitcoin and other big cryptocurrencies last year, according to a paper released on Wednesday by an academic with a history of spotting fraud in financial markets. From a report, first shared to us by reader davidwr: The paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, and Amin Shams, a graduate student, is likely to stoke a debate about how much of Bitcoin's skyrocketing gain last year was caused by the covert actions of a few big players, rather than real demand from investors. Many industry players expressed concern at the time that the prices were being pushed up at least partly by activity at Bitfinex, one of the largest and least regulated exchanges in the industry. The exchange, which is registered in the Caribbean with offices in Asia, was subpoenaed by American regulators shortly after articles about the concerns appeared in The New York Times and other publications. Mr. Griffin looked at the flow of digital tokens going in and out of Bitfinex and identified several distinct patterns that suggest that someone or some people at the exchange successfully worked to push up prices when they sagged at other exchanges. To do that, the person or people used a secondary virtual currency, known as Tether, which was created and sold by the owners of Bitfinex, to buy up those other cryptocurrencies.
Power

Solar Has Overtaken Gas, Wind As Biggest Source of New US Power (bloomberg.com) 364

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Despite tariffs that President Trump imposed on imported panels, the U.S. installed more solar energy than any other source of electricity in the first quarter. Developers installed 2.5 gigawatts of solar in the first quarter, up 13 percent from a year earlier, according to a report Tuesday from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. That accounted for 55 percent of all new generation, with solar panels beating new wind and natural gas turbines for a second straight quarter.

The growth came even as tariffs on imported panels threatened to increase costs for developers. Giant fields of solar panels led the growth as community solar projects owned by homeowners and businesses took off. Total installations this year are expected to be 10.8 gigawatts, or about the same as last year, according to GTM. By 2023, annual installations should reach more than 14 gigawatts.

Medicine

A Serious New Hurdle For CRISPR: Edited Cells Might Cause Cancer, Find Two Studies (statnews.com) 108

Editing cell genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk of developing cancer, two studies published Monday warn. From a report: Editing cells' genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk that the altered cells, intended to treat disease, will trigger cancer, two studies published on Monday warn -- a potential game-changer for the companies developing CRISPR-based therapies. In the studies, published in Nature Medicine, scientists found that cells whose genomes are successfully edited by CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to seed tumors inside a patient. That could make some CRISPR'd cells ticking time bombs, according to researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institute and, separately, Novartis. CRISPR has already dodged two potentially fatal bullets -- a 2017 claim that it causes sky-high numbers of off-target effects was retracted in March, and a report of human immunity to Cas9 was largely shrugged off as solvable. But experts are taking the cancer-risk finding seriously.
United States

US Sanctions Russians Over Military, Intelligence Hacking (reuters.com) 159

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on three Russian individuals and five companies on Monday, saying they had worked with Moscow's military and intelligence services on ways to conduct cyber attacks against the United States and its allies. From a report: "The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russiaâ(TM)s offensive cyber capabilities," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia's cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies," Mnuchin said, using an acronym for Russia's Federal Security Service.
Bitcoin

Blockchain's Once-Feared 51% Attack Is Now Becoming Regular (telegra.ph) 168

Monacoin, bitcoin gold, zencash, verge and now, litecoin cash. At least five cryptocurrencies have recently been hit with an attack that used to be more theoretical than actual, all in the last month. From a report: In each case, attackers have been able to amass enough computing power to compromise these smaller networks, rearrange their transactions and abscond with millions of dollars in an effort that's perhaps the crypto equivalent of a bank heist. More surprising, though, may be that so-called 51% attacks are a well-known and dangerous cryptocurrency attack vector. While there have been some instances of such attacks working successfully in the past, they haven't exactly been all that common. They've been so rare, some technologists have gone as far as to argue miners on certain larger blockchains would never fall victim to one.

The age-old (in crypto time) argument? It's too costly and they wouldn't get all that much money out of it. But that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. NYU computer science researcher Joseph Bonneau released research last year featuring estimates of how much money it would cost to execute these attacks on top blockchains by simply renting power, rather than buying all the equipment. One conclusion he drew? These attacks were likely to increase. And, it turns out he was right. "Generally, the community thought this was a distant threat. I thought it was much less distant and have been trying to warn of the risk," he told CoinDesk, adding: "Even I didn't think it would start happening this soon."

United States

There Are More Jobs Than People Out of Work, Something the American Economy Has Never Experienced Before (cnbc.com) 689

The jobs market has reached what should be some kind of inflection point: there are now more openings than there are workers. From a report: April marked the second month in a row this historic event has occurred, and the gap is growing. According to the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released this week, there were just shy of 6.7 million open positions in April, the most recent month for which data are available. That represented an increase of 65,000 from March and is a record. The number of vacancies is pulling well ahead of the number the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as unemployed. This year is the first time the level of the unemployed exceeded the jobs available since the BLS started tracking JOLTS numbers in 2000. As of April, the total workers looking and eligible for jobs fell to 6.35 million, a decrease from 6.58 million the previous month. The number fell further in May to 6.06 million, though there is no comparable JOLTS data for that month. Under normal circumstances, the mismatch would be creating a demand for higher wages. However, average hourly earnings rose just 2.7 percent annualized in May, up one-tenth of a point from April. Further reading: Why Nebraska has an amazing jobs market but nobody is moving there.
Businesses

Honolulu Lawmakers Pass 'Surge Pricing' Cap For Ride-Hailing Companies (reuters.com) 105

Honolulu could become the first U.S. city to limit fares ride-hailing companies can charge when demand spikes, following a city council vote on Wednesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported. From a report: Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft use a model known as "surge pricing" in which the fare for a ride rises when factors such as rush hour and bad weather increase demand for the service. The practice could be limited in the future in Hawaii's largest city after the Honolulu City Council approved by a 6-3 vote a bill requiring city officials to cap surge pricing by ride-hailing companies, the newspaper reported. For the bill to become law, however, it still needs to be signed by the Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose administration appears to oppose the measure, Hawaiinewsnow.com reported.
Power

Russian Scientists Upgrade Nuclear Battery Design To Increase Power Output (sciencealert.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: A team of Russian researchers have put a new spin on technology that uses the beta decay of a radioactive element to create differences in voltage. The devices are made of stacks of isotope of nickel-63 sandwiched between a pair of special semiconducting diodes called a Schottky barrier. This barrier keeps a current headed one way, a feature often used to turn alternating currents into direct ones. Finding that the optimal thickness of each layer was just 2 micrometers, the researchers were able to maximize the voltage produced by every gram of isotope.

Nickel-63 has a half-life of just over 100 years, which in an optimized system like this adds up to 3,300 milliwatt-hours of energy per gram: ten times the specific energy of your typical electrochemical cell. It's a significant step up from previous nickel-63 betavoltaic devices, and while it isn't quite enough to power your smart phone, it does bring it into a realm of being useful for a wide variety of tasks.

Intel

Intel Wants PCs To Be More Than Just 'Personal Computers' (engadget.com) 180

An anonymous reader shares a report "What people need from a PC, what they expect is really more diverse than ever," Intel's Client Computing head Gregory Bryant said in an interview. "We're going to embark on a journey to transform the PC from a personal computer to a personal contribution platform... The platform where people focus and can do their most meaningful work." Bryant says Intel will focus on five key areas to reframe its vision of PCs: Uncompromised performance (of course); improved connectivity with 5G on the horizon; a dramatic increase in battery life; developing more adaptable platforms that go beyond 2-in-1s and convertibles; and a push towards more intelligent machines with AI and machine learning integration. Admittedly, many of those points aren't exactly new for Intel, and they also fall in line with where the computing industry is going.
Television

When Did TV Watching Peak? (theatlantic.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: With Netflix and Amazon Prime, Facebook Video and YouTube, it's tempting to imagine that the tech industry destroyed TV. The world is more than 25 years into the web era, after all, more than half of American households have had home Internet for 15 years, and the current smartphone paradigm began more than a decade ago. But no. Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television.

In fact, television viewing didn't peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the '00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you'll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.

Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things -- Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix -- have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.

GNOME

Mystery Donor Pledges $1 Million To The GNOME Foundation (betanews.com) 150

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: This week, The GNOME Foundation made a shocking revelation: a mystery donor has pledged $1 million dollars. We don't know who is promising the money -- it could be a rich man or woman, but more likely -- and this is pure speculation -- it is probably a company that benefits from GNOME, such as Red Hat or Canonical.

"An anonymous donor has pledged to donate up to $1,000,000 over the next two years, some of which will be matching funds. The GNOME Foundation is grateful for this donation and plans on using these funds to increase staff to streamline operations and to grow its support of the GNOME Project and the surrounding ecosystem. While the GNOME Foundation has maintained its position as a proponent of the GNOME Project, growth has been limited. With these funds, the GNOME Foundation will be able to expand and lead in the free software space," says The GNOME Foundation.

Transportation

People Are Losing Faith In Self-Driving Cars Following Recent Fatal Crashes (mashable.com) 446

oldgraybeard shares a report from Mashable: A new survey (PDF) released Tuesday by the American Automobile Association found that 73 percent of American drivers are scared to ride in an autonomous vehicle. That figure is up 10 percent from the end of last year. The millennial demographic has been the most affected, according to the survey of more than 1,000 drivers. From that age group, 64 percent said they're too afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle, up from 49 percent -- making it the biggest increase of any age group surveyed. "There are news articles about the trust levels in self-driving cars going down," writes oldgraybeard. "As a technical person, I have always thought the road to driverless cars would be longer than most were talking about. What are your thoughts? As an individual with eye problems, I do like the idea. But technology is not as good as some think."

The Mashable article also references a separate study from market research company Morning Consult "showing increased fear about self-driving vehicles following the deadly March crashes in the Bay Area and Arizona." Another survey from car shopping site CarGurus set to be released Wednesday found that car owners aren't quite ready to trade their conventional vehicles for self-driving ones. "Some 84 percent of the 1,873 U.S. car owners surveyed in April said they were unlikely to own a self-driving car in the next five years," reports Mashable. "79 percent of respondents said they were not excited about the new technology."
Transportation

Boeing's Folding Wingtips Get the FAA Green Light (engadget.com) 83

Boeing received FAA approval today for its folding wingtips, which will let the planes stop at airport gates big enough to accommodate typical 777 models. "Once the 777X lands, the wingtips will rotate until they point upwards," reports Engadget. "Bloomberg notes that the plane will be the only commercial model in widespread use to have such a feature." From the report: The 777X's wingtips are so novel that U.S. regulators had to draw up new standards for them. The agency was concerned that the wingtips could cause safety issues -- some plane crashes occurred after pilots did not secure flaps on wings before takeoff. The FAA required Boeing to have several warning systems to make sure pilots won't attempt a takeoff before the wingtips are locked in the correct position. The FAA also wanted assurances that there was no way the tips would rotate during flight, and that the wings could handle winds of up to 75 miles per hour while on the ground.

The new wings are made from carbon-fiber composites that are stronger and lighter than the metal Boeing uses in other wings. That lets the company increase the wings' width by 23 feet to 235 feet, which makes flying more efficient. These are the widest wings Boeing has attached to a plane, surpassing the 747-8's 224 feet. However, it doesn't hold the record for a commercial plane: the Airbus A380 has a 262-foot-wide wing, which forced some airports to install gates specifically to accommodate it.

Medicine

Scientists Find Physically Demanding Jobs Are Linked To Greater Risk of Early Death (metro.co.uk) 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Metro: Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a "physical activity paradox" exists, where exercise may only be good for you if it's done outside of your job. Manual laborers may be physically active all day but that doesn't actually help them. In fact, the research claims that it might actually increase their risk of dying early. "While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men," says Pieter Coenen, public health researcher at UV University medical centre in Amsterdam. "These men are dying earlier than those who are not physically active in their occupation."

He says that it's all down to the type of exercise you do in your spare time, versus occupational physical activity. When you choose to exercise, you can take rest periods when you want -- something that often may not be available to you if you're working on a building site (for example). The research combined results from 17 studies, dated between 1960 and 2010 -- looking at data on almost 200,000 people.
The study has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Music

Jay-Z's Tidal Accused of Faking Kanye West, Beyonce Streaming Numbers (qz.com) 43

Subscription music service Tidal has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. "Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo,' which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyonce's platinum record 'Lemonade' were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016," reports Quartz. "By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks." From the report: West's album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyonce's record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it's not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then. However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign."

The DN's report investigated streaming numbers since 2017, when it reportedly obtained a hard drive of internal Tidal data with more than 1.5 billion of rows of user play logs. Those logs were from two periods -- from late January to early March, and mid April to early May -- totaling 65 days in 2016. Its reporters tracked down subscribers from the logs, and presented them with their apparent listening history, which the users said didn't add up.
"We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums," found the researchers (pdf) at NTNU's Center for Cyber and Information Security. "The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself."
Businesses

A Stealthy Harvard Startup Wants To Reverse Aging in Dogs, and Humans Could Be Next (technologyreview.com) 170

The idea is simple, if you ask biologist George Church. He wants to live to 130 in the body of a 22-year-old. From a report: The world's most influential synthetic biologist is behind a new company that plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it works, he plans to try the same approach in people, and he might be one of the first volunteers. The stealth startup Rejuvenate Bio, cofounded by George Church of Harvard Medical School, thinks dogs aren't just man's best friend but also the best way to bring age-defeating treatments to market. The company, which has carried out preliminary tests on beagles, claims it will make animals "younger" by adding new DNA instructions to their bodies.

Its age-reversal plans build on tantalizing clues seen in simple organisms like worms and flies. Tweaking their genes can increase their life spans by double or better. Other research has shown that giving old mice blood transfusions from young ones can restore some biomarkers to youthful levels. "We have already done a bunch of trials in mice and we are doing some in dogs, and then we'll move on to humans," Church told the podcaster Rob Reid earlier this year. The company's efforts to keep its activities out of the press make it unclear how many dogs it has treated so far. In a document provided by a West Coast veterinarian, dated last June, Rejuvenate said its gene therapy had been tested on four beagles with Tufts Veterinary School in Boston. It is unclear whether wider tests are under way.

However, from public documents, a patent application filed by Harvard, interviews with investors and dog breeders, and public comments made by the founders, MIT Technology Review assembled a portrait of a life-extension startup pursuing a longevity long shot through the $72-billion-a-year US pet industry. "Dogs are a market in and of themselves," Church said during an event in Boston last week. "It's not just a big organism close to humans. It's something people will pay for, and the FDA process is much faster. We'll do dog trials, and that'll be a product, and that'll pay for scaling up in human trials."

Communications

Are Two Spaces After a Period Better Than One? (arstechnica.com) 391

Researchers at Skidmore College conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 60 Skidmore students and found that two spaces at the end of a period slightly improved the processing of text during reading. Ars Technica reports the findings: Previous cognitive science research has been divided on the issue. Some research has suggested closer spacing of the beginning of a new sentence may allow a reader to capture more characters in their parafoveal vision -- the area of the retina just outside the area of focus, or fovea -- and thus start processing the information sooner (though experimental evidence of that was not very strong). Other prior research has inferred that an extra space prevents lateral interference in processing text, making it easier for the reader to identify the word in focus. But no prior research found by [study authors] Johnson, Bui, and Schmitt actually measured reader performance with each typographic scheme.

First, they divided their group of 60 research subjects by way of a keyboard task -- the subjects typed text dictated to them into a computer and were sorted into "one-spacers" (39 regularly put a single space between sentences) and "two-spacers" (21 hit that space bar twice consistently after a period). Every student subject used but a single space after each comma. Having identified subjects' proclivities, the researchers then gave them 21 paragraphs to read (including one practice paragraph) on a computer screen and tracked their eye movement as they read using an Eyelink 1000 video-based eye tracking system. [...] The "one-spacers" were, as a group, slower readers across the board (by about 10 words per minute), and they showed statistically insignificant variation across all four spacing practices. And "two-spacers" saw a three-percent increase in reading speed for paragraphs in their own favored spacing scheme.
The controversial part of the study has to do with the 14 point Courier New font that the researchers presented to the students. "Courier New is a fixed-width font that resembles typewritten text -- used by hardly anyone for documents," reports Ars. "Even the APA suggests using 12 point Times Roman, a proportional-width font. Fixed-width fonts make a double-space more pronounced."
Communications

Robocalls, and Their Scams, Are Surging (nytimes.com) 171

The volume of pesky robocalls -- and their scams -- have skyrocketed in recent years, reaching an estimated 3.4 billion in April. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.] From a report: In an age when cellphones have become extensions of our bodies, robocallers now follow people wherever they go, disrupting business meetings, church services and bedtime stories with their children. Though automated calls have long plagued consumers, the volume has skyrocketed in recent years, reaching an estimated 3.4 billion in April, according to YouMail, which collects and analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service. That's an increase of almost 900 million a month compared with a year ago. Federal lawmakers have noticed the surge. Both the House and Senate held hearings on the issue within the last two weeks, and each chamber has either passed or introduced legislation aimed at curbing abuses.

Federal regulators have also noticed, issuing new rules in November that give phone companies the authority to block certain robocalls. Law enforcement authorities have noticed, too. Just the other week, the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, warned consumers about a scheme targeting people with Chinese last names, in which the caller purports to be from the Chinese Consulate and demands money. Since December, the New York Police Department said, 21 Chinese immigrants had lost a total of $2.5 million.

Power

California To Become First US State Mandating Solar On New Homes (ocregister.com) 305

OCRegister reports that "The California Energy Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday, May 9, on new energy standards mandating most new homes have solar panels starting in 2020." From the report: Just 15 percent to 20 percent of new single-family homes built include solar, according to Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association. The proposed new rules would deviate slightly from another much-heralded objective: Requiring all new homes be "net-zero," meaning they would produce enough solar power to offset all electricity and natural gas consumed over the course of a year. New thinking has made that goal obsolete, state officials say. True "zero-net-energy" homes still rely on the electric power grid at night, they explained, a time when more generating plants come online using fossil fuels to generate power. In addition to widespread adoption of solar power, the new provisions include a push to increase battery storage and increase reliance on electricity over natural gas.
Government

NSA Collected 500 Million US Call Records In 2017, Says Report (reuters.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. National Security Agency collected more than 500 million phone call records of Americans last year, more than triple gathered in 2016, a U.S. intelligence agency report released on Friday said. The sharp increase to 534 million call records from 151 million occurred during the second full year of a new surveillance system established at the spy agency after U.S. lawmakers passed a law in 2015 that sought to limit its ability to collect such records in bulk. The reason for the spike was not immediately clear. The metadata records collected by the NSA include the numbers and time of a call, but not its content.

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