Critics Debate Autism's Role in James Damore's Google Memo ( 345

James Damore "wants you to know he isn't using autism as an excuse," reports a Silicon Valley newspaper, commenting on the fired Google engineer's new interview with the Guardian. But they also note that "he says being on the spectrum means he 'sees things differently'," and the weekend editor at the entertainment and "geek culture" site The Mary Sue sees a problem in the way that interview was framed. It's the author of this Guardian article, not James Damore himself, who makes the harmful suggestion that Damore's infamous Google memo and subsequent doubling-down are somehow caused by his autism... It frames autism as some sort of basic decency deficiency, rather than a neurological condition shared by millions of people.... This whole article is peppered with weird suggestions like this, suggestions which detract from an otherwise interesting piece.. All these weird suggestions that autism and misogyny/bigotry are somehow tied (as if autistic feminists didn't exist) do unfortunately detract from one of the article's great points.

Having worked at a number of companies large and small, I can at least anecdotally confirm that their diversity training rarely includes a discussion of neurodiversity, and when it does, it's not particularly empathetic or helpful... Many corporate cultures are plainly designed for neurotypical extroverts and no one else -- and that should change. I really do think Lewis meant well in pointing that out. But the other thing that should change? The way the media scapegoats autism as a source of anti-social behavior.


In Defense of Project Management For Software Teams ( 160

mikeatTB writes: Many Slashdotters weighed in on Steven A. Lowe's post, "Is Project Management Killing Good Products, Teams and Software?", where he slammed project management and called for product-centrism. Many commenters pushed back, but one PM, Yvette Schmitter, has fired back with a scathing response post, noting: "As a project manager, I'm saddened to see that project management and project managers are getting a bad rap from both ends of the spectrum. Business tends not to see the value in them, and developers tend to believe their own 'creativity' is being stymied by them. Let's set the record straight: Project management is a prized methodology for delivering on leadership's expectations.

"The success of the methodology depends on the quality of the specific project manager..." she continues. "If the project is being managed correctly by the project manager/scrum master, that euphoric state that developers want to get to can be achieved, along with the project objectives -- all within the prescribed budget and timeline. Denouncing an entire practice based on what appears to be a limited, misaligned application of the correct methodology does not make all of project management and all project managers bad."

How do Slashdot readers feel about project management for software teams?

'I See Things Differently': James Damore on his Autism and the Google Memo ( 671

"James Damore opens up about his regrets -- and how autism may have shaped his experience of the world," writes the west coast bureau chief for the Guardian. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The experience has prompted some introspection. In the course of several weeks of conversation using Google's instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he experienced with his memo. He believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people... It wasn't until his mid-20s, after completing research in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder version of the condition known as "high-functioning autism"...

Damore argues that Google's focus on avoiding "micro-aggressions" is "much harder for someone with autism to follow". But he stops short of saying autistic employees should be given more leniency if they unintentionally offend people at work. "I wouldn't necessarily treat someone differently," he explains. "But it definitely helps to understand where they're coming from." I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult experience with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum. "Yeah, there's definitely been some self-reflection," he says. "Predicting controversies requires predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And that's not something that I excel at -- although I'm working on it."


The Strange Art of Writing Release Notes ( 70

Reader necro81 writes: IEEE Spectrum has an amusing piece on how App Stores, and the frequent updates to those apps, have given release notes new prominence to average users. Unfortunately, most release notes are hum drum and uninformative: "bug fixes, performance improvements." That may be accurate, but isn't useful for determining if the new version is worth downloading. The article highlights counterexamples that weave humor and creativity into the narrative, even if it still just boils down to "bug fixes". For instance, when was the last time your release notes included ASCII art?
Although a bit old, TechCrunch also has a commentary on the highs and lows of App Store release notes.

What is the opinion of /. readers? How much information is appropriate in release notes? Should one make any attempts at levity, or keep it strictly to business? For those of you who actually write release notes, what guidelines do you use?


Why We Must Fight For the Right To Repair Our Electronics ( 224

Kyle Wiens and Gay Gordon-Byrne explain via IEEE Spectrum how people in the United States can preserve their right to repair electronics, and why people must fight for the right in the first place. Here's an excerpt from their report: So how can people in the United States preserve their right to repair electronics? The answer is now apparent: through right-to-repair legislation enacted at the state level. Popular support on this issue has been clear since 2012, when 86 percent of the voters in Massachusetts endorsed a ballot initiative that would "[require] motor vehicle manufacturers to allow vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in Massachusetts to have access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturers' Massachusetts dealers and authorized repair facilities." Carmakers howled in protest, but after the law passed, they decided not to fight independent repair. Indeed, in January 2014 they entered into a national memorandum of understanding [PDF], voluntarily extending the terms of the Massachusetts law to the entire country. The commercial vehicle industry followed suit in October 2015. Now we need right-to-repair legislation for other kinds of equipment, too, particularly electronic equipment, which is the focus of "digital right to repair" initiatives in many states.

Similar to the Massachusetts legislation for automobiles, these digital-right-to-repair proposals would require manufacturers to provide access to service documentation, tools, firmware, and diagnostic programs. They also would require manufacturers to sell replacement parts to consumers and independent repair facilities at reasonable prices. The bills introduced this year in a dozen states have some variations. The ones in Kansas and Wyoming, for example, are limited to farm equipment. The one most likely to be adopted soon is in Massachusetts, which seeks to outlaw the monopoly on repair parts and information within the state. If it passes, electronics manufacturers will probably change their practices nationwide. Consumers would then have more choices when something breaks. The next time your smartphone screen cracks, your microwave oven gets busted, or your TV dies, you may be able to get it fixed quickly, affordably, and fairly. And you, not the manufacturer, would decide where your equipment is repaired: at home, with the manufacturer, or at a local repair shop that you trust.


Stephen Hawking's Thesis Crashes Cambridge Site After It's Posted Online ( 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Demand for Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis intermittently crashed part of Cambridge University's website as physics fans flocked to read his work. Prof Hawking's 1966 thesis "Properties of expanding universes" was made freely available for the first time on the publications section of university's website at 00:01 BST. More than 60,000 have so far accessed his work as a 24-year-old postgraduate. Prof Hawking said by making it available he hoped to "inspire people." He added: "Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding. It's wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis -- hopefully they won't be disappointed now that they finally have access to it!" The 75-year-old's doctoral thesis is the most requested item in Cambridge University's library. Since May 2016, 199 requests were made for the PhD -- most of which are believed to be from the general public rather than academics. The next most requested publication was asked for just 13 times. The Cambridge Library made several PDF files of the thesis available for download -- a high-resolution "72 Mb" file, digitized version that's less than half the size, and a "reduced" version that was even smaller -- but intense interest overwhelmed the servers. Here's the first paragraph of Hawking's introduction: "The idea that the universe is expanding is of recent origin. All the early cosmologies were essentially stationary and even Einstein whose theory of relativity is the basis for almost all modern developments in cosmology, found it natural to suggest a static model of the universe. However there is a very grave difficulty associated with a static model such as Einstein's which is supposed to have existed for an infinite time. For, if the stars had been radiating energy at their present rates for an infinite time, they would have needed an infinite supply of energy. Further, the flux of radiation now would be infinite. Alternatively, if they had only a limited supply of energy, the whole universe would by now have reached thermal equilibrium which is certainly not the case. This difficulty was noticed by Olders who however was not able to suggest any solution. The discovery of the recession of the nebulae by Hubble led to the abandonment of static models in favour of ones which were expanding."

Turning the Optical Fiber Network Into a Giant Earthquake Sensor ( 15

Tekla Perry writes: Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated that they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. "People didn't believe this would work," said one of the researchers. "They always assumed that an uncoupled optical fiber would generate too much signal noise to be useful." They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but rather convincing telcos to allow the technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines. Meanwhile, the same data is being used for an art project that visualizes the activity of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and fountains on the surface above the cables.

Intelligent People More At Risk of Mental Illness, Study Finds ( 276

schwit1 shares a report from The Independent: The stereotype of a tortured genius may have a basis in reality after a new study found that people with higher IQs are more at risk of developing mental illness. A team of U.S. researchers surveyed 3,715 members of American Mensa with an IQ higher than 130. An "average IQ score" or "normal IQ score" can be defined as a score between 85 and 115. The team asked the Mensa members to report whether they had been diagnoses with mental illnesses, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They were also asked to report mood and anxiety disorders, or whether the suspected they suffered from any mental illnesses that had yet to be diagnosed, as well as physiological diseases, like food allergies and asthma. After comparing this with the statistical national average for each illness they found that those in the Mensa community had considerably higher rates of varying disorders. While 10 per cent of the general population were diagnosed with anxiety disorder, that rose to 20 percent among the Mensa community, according to the study which published in the Science Direct journal.
The Internet

Mozilla To Document Cross-Browser Web Dev Standards with Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and W3C ( 44

Mozilla has announced deeper partnerships with Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and web standards body W3C to create cross-browser documentation on MDN Web Docs, a web development documentation portal created by Mozilla. From a report: MDN Web Docs first came to fruition in 2005, and it has since been known under various names, including the Mozilla Developer Network and Mozilla Developer Center. Today, MDN Web Docs serves as a community and library of sorts covering all things related to web technologies and standards, including JavaScript, HTML, CSS, open web app development, Firefox add-on development, and more. The web constitutes multiple players from across the technology spectrum and, of course, multiple browsers, including Microsoft's Edge, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and the Samsung Internet Browser. To avoid fragmentation and ensure end-users have a (fairly) consistent browsing experience, it helps if all the players involved adhere to a similar set of standards.

Russia Reportedly Bought Thousands of Facebook Ads Sought To Stress Racial Divisions ( 292

According to The Washington Post, Russia government actors bought Facebook advertisements during the 2016 election cycle that sought to exploit and divide based on hot-button racial issues. Some of the ads promoted civil rights groups such as Black Lives Matter, while others criticized them in an effort to sow division. The Hill reports: Facebook is handing over some 3,000 ads to congressional investigators as part of probes into the Kremlin's alleged effort to influence the outcome of last year's presidential election. Other ads allegedly highlighted Hillary Clinton's support among Muslim women and promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages. Facebook didn't comment on the story, but did refer to a statement earlier this month from its chief privacy officer, Alex Stamos: "Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the idealogical spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

Super-Accurate GPS Chips Coming To Smartphones In 2018 ( 112

schwit1 writes about a new mass-market Broadcom chip designed for the next generation of smartphones: It'll know where you are to within 30 centimeters (11.8 inches), rather than five meters. At least that's the claim chip maker Broadcom is making. It says that some of its next-generation smartphone chips will use new global positioning satellite signals to boost accuracy. In a detailed report on the announcement and how the new signals work, IEEE Spectrum says that the new chips, which are expected to appear in some phones as soon as next year, will also use half the power of today's chips and even work in cities where tower blocks often interfere with existing systems. All told, it sounds like a massive change for those who rely on their phones to find their way.

Can We Surpass Moore's Law With Reversible Computing? ( 118

"It's not about an undo button," writes Slashdot reader marcle, sharing an article by a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories who's studying advanced technologies for computation. "Just reading this story bends my mind." From IEEE Spectrum: [F]or several decades now, we have known that it's possible in principle to carry out any desired computation without losing information -- that is, in such a way that the computation could always be reversed to recover its earlier state. This idea of reversible computing goes to the very heart of thermodynamics and information theory, and indeed it is the only possible way within the laws of physics that we might be able to keep improving the cost and energy efficiency of general-purpose computing far into the future... Today's computers rely on erasing information all the time -- so much so that every single active logic gate in conventional designs destructively overwrites its previous output on every clock cycle, wasting the associated energy. A conventional computer is, essentially, an expensive electric heater that happens to perform a small amount of computation as a side effect...

[I]t's really hard to engineer a system that does something computationally interesting without inadvertently incurring a significant amount of entropy increase with each operation. But technology has improved, and the need to minimize energy use is now acute... In 2004 Krishna Natarajan (a student I was advising at the University of Florida) and I showed in detailed simulations that a new and simplified family of circuits for reversible computing called two-level adiabatic logic, or 2LAL, could dissipate as little as 1 eV of energy per transistor per cycle -- about 0.001 percent of the energy normally used by logic signals in that generation of CMOS. Still, a practical reversible computer has yet to be built using this or other approaches.

The article predicts "if we decide to blaze this new trail of reversible computing, we may continue to find ways to keep improving computation far into the future. Physics knows no upper limit on the amount of reversible computation that can be performed using a fixed amount of energy."

But it also predicts that "conventional semiconductor technology could grind to a halt soon. And if it does, the industry could stagnate... Even a quantum-computing breakthrough would only help to significantly speed up a few highly specialized classes of computations, not computing in general."

Researchers Build True Random Number Generator From Carbon Nanotubes ( 144

Wave723 writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on a true random number generator that was created with single-walled semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Researchers at Northwestern University printed a SRAM cell with special nanotube ink, and used it to generate random bits based on thermal noise. This method could be used to improve the security of flexible or printed electronics. From the report: "Once Mark Hersam, an expert in nanomaterials at Northwestern University, and his team had printed their SRAM cell, they needed to actually generate a string of random bits with it. To do this, they exploited a pair of inverters found in every SRAM cell. During normal functioning, the job of an inverter is to flip any input it is given to be the opposite, so from 0 to 1, or from 1 to 0. Typically, two inverters are lined up so the results of the first inverter are fed into the second. So, if the first inverter flips a 0 into a 1, the second inverter would take that result and flip it back into a 0. To manipulate this process, Hersam's group shut off power to the inverters and applied external voltages to force the inverters to both record 1s. Then, as soon as the SRAM cell was powered again and the external voltages were turned off, one inverter randomly switched its digit to be opposite its twin again. 'In other words, we put [the inverter] in a state where it's going to want to flip to either a 1 or 0,' Hersam says. Under these conditions, Hersam's group had no control over the actual nature of this switch, such as which inverter would flip, and whether that inverter would represent a 1 or a 0 when it did. Those factors hinged on a phenomenon thought to be truly random -- fluctuations in thermal noise, which is a type of atomic jitter intrinsic to circuits." Hersam and his team recently described their work in the journal Nano Letters.

Is Microsoft Hustling Us With 'White Spaces'? ( 65

rgh02 writes: Microsoft recently announced their plan to deploy unused television airwaves to solve the digital divide in America. And while the media painted this effort as a noble one, at Backchannel, Susan Crawford reveals the truth: "Microsoft's plans aren't really about consumer internet access, don't actually focus on rural areas, and aren't targeted at the US -- except for political purposes." So what is Microsoft really up to?
The article's author believes Microsoft's real game is "to be the soup-to-nuts provider of Internet of Things devices, software, and consulting services to zillions of local and national governments around the world. Need to use energy more efficiently, manage your traffic lights, target preventative maintenance, and optimize your public transport -- but you're a local government with limited resources and competence? Call Microsoft."

The article argues Microsoft wants to bypass mobile data carriers who "will want a pound of flesh -- a percentage -- in exchange for shipping data generated by Microsoft devices from Point A to Point B... [I]n many places, they are the only ones allowed to use airwave frequencies -- spectrum -- under licenses from local governments for which they have paid hundreds of millions of dollars."

Charter Has Moved Millions of Customers To New -- And Often Higher -- Pricing ( 84

After Charter closed the acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in May 2016, it moved 30 percent of the customers it acquired onto new pricing plans, resulting in many people paying higher prices. "Before the merger, Charter had about 6.8 million customers; afterward, Charter had 25.4 million customers in 41 states and became the second-largest U.S. cable company after Comcast," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Charter came up with new prices and packages, and many customers saw their bills rise when their previous discounts expired and they were switched to non-promotional pricing. Now, 30 percent of the ex-TWC and ex-Bright House customers are paying different -- and often higher -- prices. Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge provided the update in an earnings call last week (hat tip to FierceCable). According to a Seeking Alpha transcript, Rutledge said: "In June, we finished the rollout of our new pricing, packaging, and branding across our national footprint with the last launch of Spectrum in Hawaii. We now offer a simple, straightforward, high-value product using a consistent and uniform approach across our 50 million passings under one brand, Spectrum. The new product is succeeding with consumers across our footprint. In the second quarter, our customers and PSU [primary service unit] connects were higher year-over-year. And as of the end of the second quarter, 30 percent of Time Warner Cable and Bright House legacy customers were in our new pricing and packaging, up from 17 percent at the end of last quarter. In areas where we've had Spectrum in place for at least three quarters, 43 percent of our residential customers have Spectrum package products."

US Defense Budget May Help Fund 'Hacking For Defense' Classes At Universities ( 34

According to an instructor at Stanford, eight universities in addition to Stanford will offer a Hacking for Defense class this year: Boise State, Columbia, Georgetown, James Madison, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Southern California, and the University of Southern Mississippi. IEEE Spectrum reports: The class has spun out Hacking for Diplomacy, Hacking for Energy, and other targeted classes that use the same methodology. The snowballing effort is now poised to get a big push. This month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment originated by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) to support development of curriculum, best practices, and recruitment materials for the program to the tune of $15 million (a drop in the $700 billion defense budget but a big deal for a university program). In arguing for the amendment, Lipinski said, "Rapid, low-cost technological innovation is what makes Silicon Valley revolutionary, but the DOD hasn't historically had the mechanisms in place to harness this American advantage. Hacking for Defense creates ways for talented scientists and engineers to work alongside veterans, military leaders, and business mentors to innovate solutions that make America safer."

IEEE Spectrum Declares Python The #1 Programming Language ( 372

An anonymous reader quotes IEEE Spectrum's annual report on the top programming languages: As with all attempts to rank the usage of different languages, we have to rely on various proxies for popularity. In our case, this means having data journalist Nick Diakopoulos mine and combine 12 metrics from 10 carefully chosen online sources to rank 48 languages. But where we really differ from other rankings is that our interactive allows you choose how those metrics are weighted when they are combined, letting you personalize the rankings to your needs. We have a few preset weightings -- a default setting that's designed with the typical Spectrum reader in mind, as well as settings that emphasize emerging languages, what employers are looking for, and what's hot in open source...

Python has continued its upward trajectory from last year and jumped two places to the No. 1 slot, though the top four -- Python, C, Java, and C++ -- all remain very close in popularity. Indeed, in Diakopoulos's analysis of what the underlying metrics have to say about the languages currently in demand by recruiting companies, C comes out ahead of Python by a good margin... Ruby has fallen all the way down to 12th position, but in doing so it has given Apple's Swift the chance to join Google's Go in the Top Ten... Outside the Top Ten, Apple's Objective-C mirrors the ascent of Swift, dropping down to 26th place. However, for the second year in a row, no new languages have entered the rankings. We seem to have entered a period of consolidation in coding as programmers digest the tools created to cater to the explosion of cloud, mobile, and big data applications.

"Speaking of stabilized programming tools and languages," the article concludes, "it's worth noting Fortran's continued presence right in the middle of the rankings (sitting still in 28th place), along with Lisp in 35th place and Cobol hanging in at 40th."
The Military

Navy Unveils First Active Laser Weapon In Persian Gulf ( 370

schwit1 shares a report from CNN: In the sometimes hostile waters of the Persian Gulf looms the U.S. Navy's first -- in fact, the world's first -- active laser weapon. The LaWS, an acronym for Laser Weapons System, is not science fiction. It is not experimental. It is deployed on board the USS Ponce amphibious transport ship, ready to be fired at targets today and every day by Capt. Christopher Wells and his crew. It costs "about a dollar a shot" to fire, said Lt. Cale Hughes, laser weapons system officer. LaWS begins with an advantage no other weapon ever invented comes even close to matching. It moves, by definition, at the speed of light. For comparison, that is 50,000 times the speed of an incoming ICBM. For the test, the USS Ponce crew launched the target -- a drone aircraft, a weapon in increasing use by Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and other adversaries. In an instant, the drone's wing lit up, heated to a temperature of thousands of degrees, lethally damaging the aircraft and sending it hurtling down to the sea. "It operates in an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum so you don't see the beam, it doesn't make any sound, it's completely silent and it's incredibly effective at what it does," said Hughes.

Why is Comcast Using Self-driving Cars To Justify Abolishing Net Neutrality? ( 225

Earlier this week, Comcast filed its comments in favor of the FCC's plan to eliminate the 2015 net neutrality rules. While much of the document was devoted to arguments we've heard before -- Comcast believes the current rules are anti-competitive and hurt investment, but generally supports the principles of net neutrality -- one statement stood out. The Verge adds: Buried in the 161-page document was this quirky assertion (emphasis ours): "At the same time, the Commission also should bear in mind that a more flexible approach to prioritization may be warranted and may be beneficial to the public... And paid prioritization may have other compelling applications in telemedicine. Likewise, for autonomous vehicles that may require instantaneous data transmission, black letter prohibitions on paid prioritization may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it. In other words, Comcast is arguing for paid prioritization and internet fast lanes to enable self-driving cars to communicate better with other vehicles and their surrounding environment, thus making them a safer and more efficient mode of transportation. The only problem is that autonomous and connected cars don't use wireless broadband to communicate. When cars talk with each other, they do it by exchanging data wirelessly over an unlicensed spectrum called the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) band, using technology similar to Wi-Fi. The FCC has set aside spectrum in the 5.9GHz band specifically for this purpose, and it is only meant to be used for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) applications. That includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) -- so cars talking to other cars, to traffic signals, to the phone in your pocket... you name it. Soon enough, all cars sold in the US will be required to include V2V technology for safety purposes, if the Department of Transportationâ(TM)s new rule goes into effect.

Facial Recognition Could Be Coming To Police Body Cameras ( 180

schwit1 quotes a report from Defense One: Even if the cop who pulls you over doesn't recognize you, the body camera on his chest eventually just might. Device-maker Motorola will work with artificial intelligence software startup Neurala to build "real-time learning for a person of interest search" on products such as the Si500 body camera for police, the firm announced Monday. Italian-born neuroscientist and Neurala founder Massimiliano Versace has created patent-pending image recognition and machine learning technology. It's similar to other machine learning methods but far more scalable, so a device carried by that cop on his shoulder can learn to recognize shapes and -- potentially faces -- as quickly and reliably as a much larger and more powerful computer. It works by mimicking the mammalian brain, rather than the way computers have worked traditionally.

Versace's research was funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA under a program called SyNAPSE. In a 2010 paper for IEEE Spectrum, he describes the breakthrough. Basically, a tiny constellation of processors do the work of different parts of the brain -- which is sometimes called neuromorphic computation -- or "computation that can be divided up between hardware that processes like the body of a neuron and hardware that processes the way dendrites and axons do." Versace's research shows that AIs can learn in that environment using a lot less code.

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