Venezuela Launches Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency ( 178

Venezuela has launched a cryptocurrency backed by oil in an attempt to bypass tough economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government. "The 'Petro' is intended to bolster the country's crumbling economy, which has been suffering from hyperinflation and devaluation for years," reports the BBC. "Venezuela claims it is the world's first sovereign cryptocurrency." From the report: Critics say the move is a desperate attempt by Caracas to raise cash at a time when Venezuela lacks the ability to repay its $150 billion of foreign debt. Opposition leaders said the sale constitutes an illegal issuing of debt, while the US Treasury Department warned it may violate sanctions imposed last year. The government says the currency aims to circumvent US sanctions on the economy. President Nicolas Maduro has said each tokens will be backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude. The Latin American country has the world's largest proven oil reserves. A total of 100 million Petros will be sold, with an initial value set at $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January. The official website published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet in which to hold the cryptocurrency, but did not provide a link for actually doing so on Tuesday.

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th ( 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.

The Year in Crowdfunded PCs: Who Succeeded? Who Failed? ( 52

Sean Portnoy, writing for ZDNet: The ever-maturing PC industry hasn't deterred manufacturers large and small from embracing crowdfunding as a method of bringing new systems to market, whether they need the funds to produce their new product, or just want to gain publicity and guarantee some upfront sales. Not every launch on Kickstarter or one of its rivals is a roaring success, but enough are to keep the campaigns coming. It was no different in 2017, as several companies offered new devices for crowdfunding, although some of them were clearly drawing inspiration from the past. That includes the Gemini, which answers the question: What would a PDA look like in a world filled with smartphones that have essentially replaced it? That answer is a clam-shell handheld with a physical keyboard, 5.99-inch screen, and Android and Linux dual-boot capability (along with built-in Wi-Fi and 4G option to keep up with the times).

As unlikely as you might think such a device would be attractive in a world of iPhones, tablets, Chromebooks, and other portables, the company behind the Gemini, UK startup Planet Computers, easily surpassed its campaign target on IndieGogo, raising over $1.1 million. Another tiny computer, the GPD Pocket, doesn't look all that different from the Gemini, though it doesn't try to market itself specifically as a PDA. Instead, parent company GamePad Digital (or GPD) defines it as a 7-inch Windows laptop, complete with 8GB of RAM, 128GB solid-state drive, and full HD touchscreen.
The list goes on.

Ban Sale of Mini Mobiles, Says Justice Minister ( 192

Online retail companies should ban the sale of mini mobile phones designed to be smuggled into prisons, said justice secretary David Lidington on Monday. From a report: Often marketed as "Beat the Boss phones", the tiny feature phones can be bought for around $25 to $40 online on sites including Amazon, Ebay and Gumtree. On the inside, they can change hands for up to $670. The phones, which can be as small as lipsticks, are popular with prison inmates due to their discreet size and lack of metal, which allows them to beat metal detectors. Mobile phones are banned in prisons, in part because they allow inmates to continue criminal activities while they're locked up. But around 20,000 phones and SIM cards were seized by prison guards in 2016, with mini mobiles making up around a third of these.

Hollywood's International War on Kodi Plugins And Video-Streaming Boxes ( 57

An anonymous reader quotes the EFF: In the past few years, the sale of pre-configured Kodi boxes, and the availability of a range of plugins providing access to streaming media, has seen the software's popularity balloon -- and made it the latest target of Hollywood's copyright enforcement juggernaut. We've seen this in the appearance of streaming media boxes as an enforcement priority in the U.S. Trade Representative's Special 301 Report, in proposals for new legislation targeting the sale of "illicit" media boxes, and in lawsuits that have been brought on both sides of the Atlantic to address the "problem" that media boxes running Kodi, like any Web browser, can be used to access media streams that were not authorized by the copyright holder...

The difficulty facing the titans of TV is that since neither those who sell Kodi boxes, nor those who write or host add-ons for the software, are engaging in any unauthorized copying by doing so, cases targeting these parties have to rely on other legal theories. So far several legal theories have been used; one in Europe against sellers of Kodi boxes, one in Canada against the owner of the popular Kodi add-on repository TVAddons, and two in the United States against TVAddons and a plugin developer... These lawsuits by big TV incumbents seem to have a few goals: to expand the scope of secondary copyright infringement yet again, to force major Kodi add-on distributors off of the Internet, and to smear and discourage open source, freely configurable media players by focusing on the few bad actors in that ecosystem.

The EFF details the specific lawsuits in each region, and concludes that their courts "should reject these expansions of copyright liability, and TV networks should not target neutral platforms and technologies for abusive lawsuits."

Vacuum Company Dyson To Build 'Radically Different' Electric Car ( 177

British inventor Sir James Dyson has announced plans to build an electric car that will be "radically different" from current models and go on sale in 2020. The Guardian reports: The billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the 2.5 billion British pound project. No prototype has yet been built, but Dyson said the car's electric motor was ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to "wait and see" what the car would look like: "We don't have an existing chassis [...] We're starting from scratch. What we're doing is quite radical." However, he said the design was "all about the technology" and warned that it would be an expensive vehicle to purchase. While he did not name a price, he said: "Maybe the better figure is how much of a deposit they would be prepared to put down."

China Joins the Growing Movement To Ban Gasoline, Diesel Cars ( 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: China has become the latest country to publicly discuss plans to ban the production and sale of gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles. In July, both France and the UK published plans to phase out sales of conventionally powered vehicles by 2040. China will now add another nail to the coffin of the internal combustion engine. However, unlike the French or British plans, in this case there's no target date -- yet. The news comes from an automotive policy forum in Tianjin. China's vice minister of industry and information technology, Xin Guobin, said that his ministry has begun work on a timetable to phase out fossil fueled vehicles. The Xinhua news agency also reports that Xin told automakers they need to begin to "readjust their strategies" accordingly. For foreign car companies hoping to sell EVs in China, that will mean investing in the country, as imported vehicles come with stiff import duties attached.

A New Amiga Will Go On Sale In Late 2017 ( 185

An anonymous reader quote the Register: The world's getting a new Amiga for Christmas. Yes, that Amiga -- the seminal Commodore microcomputers that brought mouse-driven GUIs plus slick and speedy graphics to the masses from 1985 to 1996... The platform died when Commodore went bankrupt, but enthusiasm for the Amiga persisted and various clones and efforts to preserve AmigaOS continue to this day. One such effort, from Apollo Accelerators, emerged last week: the company's forthcoming "Vampire V4" can work as a standalone Amiga or an accelerator for older Amigas... There's also 512MB of RAM, 40-and-44-pin FastIDE connectors, Ethernet, a pair of USB ports and MicroSD for storage [PDF]. Micro USB gets power to the board.
A school in Michigan used the same Amiga for 30 years. Whenever it broke, they actually phoned up the high school student who original set it up in 1987 and had him come over to fix it.

The Kronos Indictment: Is it a Crime To Create and Sell Malware? ( 199

Marcus Hutchins, the 23-year-old British security researcher who was credited with stopping the WannaCry outbreak in its tracks by discovering a hidden "kill switch" for the malware, was arrested by the FBI over his alleged involvement in separate malicious software targeting bank accounts. According to an indictment released by the US Department of Justice on Thursday, Hutchins is accused of having helped to create, spread and maintain the banking trojan Kronos between 2014 and 2015. Hutchins, who is indicted with another unnamed co-defendant, stands accused of six counts of hacking-related crimes as a result of his alleged involvement with Kronos. A preliminary analysis of those counts suggest that the government will face significant legal challenges. Orin Kerr, the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, writes: The indictment asserts that Hutchins created the malware and an unnamed co-conspirator took the lead in selling it. The indictment charges a slew of different crimes for that: (1) conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; (2) three counts of violating 18 U.S.C. 2512, which prohibits selling and advertising wiretapping devices; (3) a count of wiretapping; and (4) a count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act through accomplice liability -- basically, aiding and abetting a hacking crime. Do the charges hold up? Just based on a first look at the case, my sense is that the government's theory of the case is fairly aggressive. It will lead to some significant legal challenges. It's hard to say, at this point, how those challenges will play out. The indictment is pretty bare-bones, and we don't have all the facts or even what the government thinks are the facts.

Electric Cars Are Not the Answer To Air Pollution, Says Top UK Adviser ( 296

Cars must be driven out of cities to tackle the UK's air pollution crisis, not just replaced with electric vehicles, according to the UK government's top adviser. From a report: Prof Frank Kelly said that while electric vehicles emit no exhaust fumes, they still produce large amounts of tiny pollution particles from brake and tyre dust, for which the government already accepts there is no safe limit. Toxic air causes 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, recently announced that the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned from 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that. But faced with rising anger from some motorists, the plan made the use of charges to deter dirty diesel cars from polluted areas a measure of last resort only. Kelly's intervention heightens the government's dilemma between protecting public health and avoiding politically difficult charges or bans on urban motorists. "The government's plan does not go nearly far enough," said Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's College London and chair of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, official expert advisers to the government. "Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars."

Visa Considers Extending 'War on Cash' Business Incentives Outside US ( 303

Visa is hoping to extend its "war on cash" agenda to businesses in the U.K. after announcing new incentives for U.S. businesses to go cashless. From a report: The payment technology company revealed on Wednesday that it was launching a "cashless challenge" which would see 50 U.S. businesses receive $10,000 each to help them convert to a cashless payment model. It is now aiming to roll the model out to the U.K., though is yet to set a timeframe for the launch, a Visa spokesperson confirmed to CNBC Friday. Under the scheme, businesses in the U.S. are invited to submit plans outlining what going cashless might mean for them, their employees and their customers. Recipients of the award will then be required to use the lump sum to upgrade their point-of-sale systems so they are completely cashless. Any remaining money can be put towards marketing, the company said. "We're declaring a war on cash," Andy Gerlt, a spokesman for Visa, said in the announcement Wednesday.
United Kingdom

UK Parliament Emails Closed After 'Sustained And Determined' Cyber-Attack ( 44

An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: Parliament has been hit by a "sustained and determined" cyber-attack by hackers attempting to gain access to MPs' and their staffers' email accounts. Both houses of parliament were targeted on Friday in an attack that sought to gain access to accounts protected by weak passwords... The estate's digital services team said they had made changes to accounts to block out the hackers, and that the changes could mean staff were unable to access their emails...

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, told ITV News the attack was a "warning to everyone we need more security and better passwords. You wouldn't leave your door open at night." In an interview with the BBC, he added: "We know that there are regular attacks by hackers attempting to get passwords. We have seen reports in the last few days of even Cabinet ministers' passwords being for sale online. We know that our public services are attacked, so it is not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails."

One member of Parliament posted on Twitter "Sorry, no parliamentary email access today â" we're under cyber-attack from Kim Jong-un, Putin or a kid in his mom's basement or something." He added later, "I'm off to the pub."

Fallen Tech Star Imagination Technologies Up For Sale After Apple Row Bites ( 28

UK chip designer Imagination Technologies -- which is in dispute with Apple, its largest customer -- has put itself up for sale. Shares in the company more than halved in April when Imagination said that Apple was to stop using its technology. From a report: The firm was regarded as a leading light in Britain's burgeoning tech sector, but ran into trouble when the phones giant, by far its biggest customer, said it would no longer rely on it for graphics design. Apple accounts for more than half of Imagination's revenues and last year held takeover talks with Imagination. Two parts of the business, MIPS and Ensigma, were already up for sale. Imagination said it has received "interest from a number of parties for a potential acquisition of the whole group." It is in "preliminary discussions" with the aid of bankers from Rothschild.

Top UK Supermarket Laser Prints Labels On Avocados To Reduce Waste ( 219

One of the largest British retailers in London, M&S, is opting in for laser-printed barcodes to reduce paper waste. "The labels, which are etched onto fruit's skins with lasers instead of stickers, will save 10 tons of paper and five tons of glue every year according to M&S," reports The Telegraph. The labels will be etched into the skins of avocados, but "could soon be introduced to other fruit and vegetables and adopted by other supermarkets which are looking for new waste reduction techniques." The labels themselves include the shop logo, best before date, country of origin and product code for entering at the till. What's more is that the avocado's skin is the only area impacted by the lasers -- none of the fruit gets damaged. Bruce66423 writes: Print the information usually on the packaging to reduce waste. Excellent idea -- although the Aldi (the radically cheap, all own brand chain) alternative is to leave avocados untouched and get the cashiers to enter the code.

JRR Tolkien Book 'Beren and Luthien' Published After 100 Years ( 94

seoras quotes a report from BBC: A new book by Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien is going on sale -- 100 years after it was first conceived. Beren and Luthien has been described as a "very personal story" that the Oxford professor thought up after returning from the Battle of the Somme. It was edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and contains versions of a tale that became part of The Silmarillion. The book features illustrations by Alan Lee, who won an Academy Award for his work on Peter Jackson's film trilogy. It is being published on Thursday by HarperCollins on the 10th anniversary of the last Middle Earth book, The Children of Hurin.

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 ( 243

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.

UK Bookstores Found Selling Banned US Bomb-Making Handbooks ( 108

Three major online retailers in the UK have been listing a number of bomb-making manuals on their websites. Engadget adds:These books were originally made back in the 1960s for US military personnel and include titles like Improvised Munitions Handbook, Boobytraps, and Explosives and Demolitions. But since the end of the Vietnam War, these books have become popular resources for terrorists of all stripes. Thomas Mair, the man who assassinated Labour MP Jo Cox, reportedly owned a copy of Improvised Munitions, for example. The surfacing of these books for sale on the WH Smith, Amazon UK and Waterstones websites, has at least one of the companies scrambling to scrub the listings. WH Smith shut down its entire website for more than four hours on Thursday to eliminate the offending material, however it appears they are still available on Amazon and Waterstones.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's New Xbox One S Will Go On Sale On August 2 -- Will You Buy One? ( 108

Microsoft announced on Monday that its new Xbox One S console will go on sale on August 2. To recall, the Xbox One S is 40 percent smaller than the original Xbox One (also the power supply packed in the console itself), and has the processing muscle to stream video in 4K Ultra HD with HDR. BetaNews reports: August 2 is the big date which also sees the release of Windows 10 Anniversary Update. The Xbox One S also features up to 2TB of storage. In all, three versions of the console are available. It's the 2TB model that's grabbing the headlines and the attention of keen gamers, and this model will launch in "limited numbers" priced at $399. The console will launch in Australia, Canada, UK and United States among several other regions. For anyone looking for a slightly cheaper option, the 1TB model will cost $349, while $299 will get you a 500GB version. If you want to add to the single Xbox Wireless Controller included as standard, this will set you back a further $59.99.Are you planning to purchase one of these?

SoftBank To Buy British Chip Designer ARM For $32 Billion ( 153

SoftBank has agreed to acquire British chip designer ARM Holdings for $32 billion in cash. The purchase will give Japan's multinational telecommunications and Internet corporation a slice of virtually every mobile computing gadget on the planet and future connected devices in the home. ARM, unlike Intel, doesn't manufacture chips, but licenses the design for it. ARM customers shipped roughly 15 billion products with ARM chips inside in 2015. This also marks the first large-scale, cross-border transaction in Britain since it voted to exit the European Union last month. "I have admired this company for over ten years," SoftBank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son told reporters at a press conference in London on Monday. "This is an endorsement into the view of the future of the U.K."

ARM assumes the tentpole position in chips for mobile devices. It was one of the first companies to aggressively focus on mobile devices while other semiconductor companies were ramping up their efforts on desktops. SoftBank, which is based in Tokyo has become one of the most acquisitive companies in the recent years. It heavily invests in technology, media, and telecommunications companies. ARM could provide an additional boost to SoftBank's mobile strategy. SoftBank, for instance, also owns about 83 percent of the American wireless operator Sprint.
Hermann Hauser, one of ARM's founders, said, "ARM is the proudest achievement of my life. The proposed sale to SoftBank is a sad day for me and for technology in Britain." BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones asked, "Question -- if ARM goes, what's left as a worldbeating UK-owned tech player?"

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