Businesses

The Gig Economy Workforce Will Double In Four Years (recode.net) 12

The number of workers in the so-called gig economy will grow substantially in the coming years, according to a study by Intuit and Emergent Research. By 2021, the study finds, 9.2 million people are going to be working the frontline jobs at companies like Uber and Lyft. That number is projected to be 4.8 million this year. From a report: The rise in on-demand workers has been fueled largely by startups like Uber, TaskRabbit and Airbnb. It has also helped companies like Intuit, which makes tax software QuickBooks and TurboTax. The company's stock surged to an all-time high yesterday thanks to the gig economy. For context, there are currently more gig workers than people employed in the entire information sector (which includes publishing, telecommunication and data processing jobs) and IT services combined, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also read: A recent piece on The New Yorker which talks about the lengths to which people are willing to go to survive in such jobs -- a horrifying culture that is often celebrated in those companies.
The Almighty Buck

With Nothing Left To Sell, RadioShack Is Selling Itself To People (theverge.com) 58

RadioShack, an almost 100-year-old American chain of wireless and electronics stores, had a hell of ride at retail. The cradle of building your own electronics at home, and an early participant in the PC revolution, is finally facing the end after a long, slow death at the hands of consumer disinterest, a dysfunctional marriage with Sprint. From a report: Tons of electronics stores have shuttered over the past decade, but few are as tragic as RadioShack, which filed for bankruptcy in 2015, appeared to be rescued by Sprint in agreement to co-share the stores, then got kicked to the curb and had to file for a second bankruptcy this past March. The new agreement means hundreds of RadioShack shops will officially close down and be replaced by Sprint stores, fizzling out dreams of the Maker movement. So while this is an end to another chapter of our American electronics retail culture, we do have to wonder: how are the folks at RadioShack doing? They have been selling the leftover stocks of electronics for a while, with only mostly store fixtures, ladders, and carpet tiles seemingly left on offer. This is what RadioShack posted earlier this month. The company has since been tweeting about the leftover stuff it has up on sale, though.
Businesses

Disney Chief Bob Iger Doesn't Believe Movie Hack Threat Was Real (hollywoodreporter.com) 18

You may remember Disney's boss revealing that hackers had threatened to leak one of the studio's new films unless it paid a ransom. Bob Iger didn't name the film, but it was thought to be "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." But now Iger says: "To our knowledge we were not hacked." From a report: Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger confirmed Thursday that a hacker claiming to have stolen an upcoming Disney movie and demanding a ransom didn't appear to have the goods. "To our knowledge we were not hacked," Iger told Yahoo Finance. "We had a threat of a hack of a movie being stolen. We decided to take it seriously but not react in the manner in which the person who was threatening us had required." Iger continued, "We don't believe that it was real and nothing has happened." On May 15, as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Iger told ABC employees at a town hall meeting in New York that someone claiming to have stolen an upcoming movie would release the film on the internet unless the company paid a ransom. Iger told staff that the studio wouldn't meet any such demands.
Government

Major US Tech Firms Press Congress For Internet Surveillance Reforms (reuters.com) 25

Dustin Volz, reporting for Reuters: Facebook, Amazon and more than two dozen other U.S. technology companies pressed Congress on Friday to make changes to a broad internet surveillance law, saying they were necessary to improve privacy protections and increase government transparency. The request marks the first significant public effort by Silicon Valley to wade into what is expected to be a contentious debate later the year over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, parts of which will expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress reauthorizes them. Of particular concern to the technology industry and privacy advocates is Section 702, which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to vacuum up vast amounts of communications from foreigners but also incidentally collects some data belonging to Americans that can be searched by analysts without a warrant.
Windows

In a Throwback To the '90s, NTFS Bug Lets Anyone Hang Or Crash Windows 7, 8.1 (arstechnica.com) 73

Windows 7 and 8.1 (and also Windows Vista) have a bug that is reminiscent of Windows 98 age, when a certain specially crafted filename could make the operating system crash (think of file:///c:/con/con). From an ArsTechnica report: The new bug, which fortunately doesn't appear to afflict Windows 10, uses another special filename. This time around, the special filename of choice is $MFT. $MFT is the name given to one of the special metadata files that are used by Windows' NTFS filesystem. The file exists in the root directory of each NTFS volume, but the NTFS driver handles it in special ways, and it's hidden from view and inaccessible to most software. Attempts to open the file are normally blocked, but in a move reminiscent of the Windows 9x flaw, if the filename is used as if it were a directory name -- for example, trying to open the file c:\$MFT\123 -- then the NTFS driver takes out a lock on the file and never releases it. Every subsequent operation sits around waiting for the lock to be released. Forever. This blocks any and all other attempts to access the file system, and so every program will start to hang, rendering the machine unusable until it is rebooted.
Mozilla

Former Mozilla CTO: 'Chrome Won' (andreasgal.com) 154

Responding to Firefox marketing head Eric Petitt's blog post from earlier this week, Andreas Gal, former chief technology officer of Mozilla (who spent seven years at the company) offers his insights. Citing latest market share figures, Gal says "it's safe to say that Chrome is eating the browser market, and everyone else except Safari is getting obliterated." From his blog post (edited and condensed for length): With a CEO transition about 3 years ago there was a major strategic shift at Mozilla to re-focus efforts on Firefox and thus the Desktop. Prior to 2014 Mozilla heavily invested in building a Mobile OS to compete with Android: Firefox OS. I started the Firefox OS project and brought it to scale. While we made quite a splash and sold several million devices, in the end we were a bit too late and we didn't manage to catch up with Android's explosive growth. Mozilla's strategic rationale for building Firefox OS was often misunderstood. Mozilla's founding mission was to build the Web by building a browser. [...] Browsers are a commodity product. They all pretty much look the same and feel the same. All browsers work pretty well, and being slightly faster or using slightly less memory is unlikely to sway users. If even Eric -- who heads Mozilla's marketing team -- uses Chrome every day as he mentioned in the first sentence, it's not surprising that almost 65% of desktop users are doing the same. [...] I don't think there will be a new browser war where Firefox or some other competitor re-captures market share from Chrome. It's like launching a new and improved horse in the year 2017. We all drive cars now. Some people still use horses, and there is value to horses, but technology has moved on when it comes to transportation. Does this mean Google owns the Web if they own Chrome? No. Absolutely not. Browsers are what the Web looked like in the first decades of the Internet. Mobile disrupted the Web, but the Web embraced mobile and at the heart of most apps beats a lot of JavaScript and HTTPS and REST these days. The future Web will look yet again completely different. Much will survive, and some parts of it will get disrupted.
Opera

Opera Abandons iOS Platform (betanews.com) 49

Reader BrianFagioli writes: After searching for Opera in the Apple App Store, I noticed something odd -- none of the company's iOS browsers (Opera Mini and Opera Coast) had been updated in 2017. Since we are almost halfway through the year, I decided to ask Opera what was up. Shockingly, the company told me that it no longer has a team working on iOS. An Opera employee by the name of 'Rosi' sent me a tweet this morning, making the revelation. While the desktop version of the browser is still in development, the company has chosen to abandon its efforts on iOS. To show just how bad it is, the Opera Mini browser hasn't been updated in almost a year. Opera Coast was updated in December of 2016, however -- almost six months ago.
Businesses

Mark Zuckerberg Calls for Universal Basic Income in His Harvard Commencement Speech (fortune.com) 501

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has become the latest major tech figure to call for universal basic income as a solution for inequality, joining a growing chorus from Silicon Valley. From a report: "Every generation expands its definition of equality. Now it's time for our generation to define a new social contract," Zuckerberg said during his commencement speech at Harvard University. "We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things," he said. Zuckerberg told the class of 2017 that he was able to pursue his passion in Facebook because he knew he had a safety net to fall back on.
The Almighty Buck

Messenger App Kik Debuts Its Own Digital Currency (bloomberg.com) 47

The messaging app Kik Interactive has decided to create its own digital currency. Kik's plans are for an "initial coin offering," a process by which it sells tokens that can be used to buy services on its platform. "The idea is that as more and more people use Kik, the value of those tokens, called 'Kin,' will rise in value," reports TechCrunch. From the report: Kik, which has raised about $120 million (in real money) from investors including Tencent Holdings Ltd., could serve to add a new layer of legitimacy to the process. "Kik will be the largest install base of cryptocurrency users in the world," Chief Executive Officer Ted Livingston said. "Kin, on day one will be the most-used cryptocurrency in the world." The move comes as Kik finally reveals how many people actually use its app regularly each month: 15 million. That's a far-cry from the 300 million total registered users number it was sharing around this time last year. Kik plans to gift a certain amount of Kin to each user. They'll be able use the new currency to buy games, live video streams and other digital products. The company's goal is to attract new merchants to sell on the platform, creating a snowball effect where Kin becomes more valuable and more sellers pile onto Kik, increasing its popularity.
Earth

Scientists Develop Technology That Burns Natural Gas With No CO2 Emissions (scienceblog.com) 118

New submitter Ben Sullivan writes: Researchers and engineers in Vienna have developed a way to burn natural gas without releasing CO2 into the air through a combustion method called chemical looping combustion (CLC). In this process, CO2 can be isolated during combustion without having to use any additional energy, which means it can then go on to be stored. The method had already been applied successfully in a test environment, and has now been upscaled to allow use in up to a 10 MW facility. ScienceBlog.com reports: "A granulate made of metal oxide circulates between the two chambers and is responsible for transporting oxygen from air to fuel: 'We pump air through one chamber, where the particles take up oxygen. They then move on to the second chamber, which has natural gas flowing through it. Here is where the oxygen is released, and then where flameless combustion takes place, producing CO2 and water vapor,' explains Stefan Penthor from the Institute of Chemical Engineering at TU Wien. The separation into two chambers means there are two separate flue gas streams to deal with too: air with a reduced concentration of oxygen is discharged from one chamber, water vapor and CO2 from the other. The water vapor can be separated quite easily, leaving almost pure CO2, which can be stored or used in other technical applications."
Space

Juno Spacecraft Reveals Spectacular Cyclones At Jupiter's Poles (arstechnica.com) 22

Joe Palca reports via NPR: NASA's Juno spacecraft has spotted giant cyclones swirling at Jupiter's north and south poles. That's just one of the unexpected and puzzling findings being reported by the Juno science team. Juno arrived at Jupiter last summer. It's the first spacecraft to get a close-up look at the planet's poles. It's in an orbit that takes it skimming close to the cloud tops of the gas giant once every 53 days. After each close pass, the spacecraft sends a trove of data back to Earth. Ultimately, scientists will want to understand how these cyclones change over time and whether they form differently in the north and south poles. Another puzzle that Juno is supposed to help solve is whether Jupiter, a gas giant, has a solid core. Another surprise from Juno is the concentration of ammonia in Jupiter's atmosphere. Scientists thought ammonia was most likely distributed evenly throughout the atmosphere. The data show there's more ammonia near the equator than there is at other latitudes.
China

Chinese Company Offers Free Training For US Coal Miners To Become Wind Farmers (qz.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: If you want to truly understand what's happening in the energy industry, the best thing to do is to travel deep into the heart of American coal country, to Carbon County, Wyoming (yes, that's a real place). The state produces most coal in the US, and Carbon County has long been known (and was named) for its extensive coal deposits. But the state's mines have been shuttering over the past few years, causing hundreds of people to lose their jobs in 2016 alone. Now, these coal miners are finding hope, offered from an unlikely place: a Chinese wind-turbine maker wants to retrain these American workers to become wind-farm technicians. It's the perfect metaphor for the massive shift happening in the global energy markets. The news comes from an energy conference in Wyoming, where the American arm of Goldwind, a Chinese wind-turbine manufacturer, announced the free training program. More than a century ago, Carbon County was home to the first coal mine in Wyoming. Soon, it will be the site of a new wind farm with hundreds of Goldwind-supplied turbines.
Businesses

US Senator Introduces the First Bill To Give Gig Workers Benefits (techcrunch.com) 141

Virginia Senator Mark Warner has introduced a bill that will give basic benefits to gig workers. "Warner has just proposed the first-ever piece of national legislation aimed at helping on-demand and other non-traditional workers without traditional benefits, like paid sick days or a retirement plan, have some sort of a safety net," reports TechCrunch. "The bill asks the federal government to set aside $20 million in funding for organizations to use to look at the types of benefits programs individual workers could take with them from job to job." From the report: "[Portable benefits is] that emergency fund," Warner told BuzzFeed, which first reported news of the bill. "It might be a fund to take care of a disability if you get hurt. It might work with some existing retirement programs. Part of it would be, depending on what happens with Obamacare, an ability to help deal with health care expenses. I think there will be a variety of models." The funding wouldn't be enough to cover everyone, of course, but if it gets the green light a draft of the bill indicates it would earmark $5 million toward grants doled out by Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta for organizations already looking into portable benefits and $15 million for new programs.
Transportation

Amazon's Drive-Up Grocery Stores Are Now Open To the Public In Seattle (theverge.com) 32

Amazon has opened two drive-up grocery stores to the public that will allow Amazon Prime subscribers to place an online order and choose a two-hour pickup window for when they'd like to drive over and retrieve it. The Verge reports: Despite the stores being called "AmazonFresh Pickup," a membership to the company's home delivery grocery service isn't required. But if you do pay for AmazonFresh (an extra $14.99 per month on top of Prime's usual cost), your groceries will be ready within 15 minutes. Regular Prime customers have to wait at least two hours before the earliest pickup window becomes available. According to The Seattle Times, the first time you visit one of the two AmazonFresh Pickup locations, a concierge will enter your name and vehicle's license plate number into Amazon's systems. That way, during subsequent visits a license plate reader will automatically identify you and signal to employees that they should bring your order out to your car. The Times notes that this license plate scanning can be disabled from Amazon's website.
Security

More Than Half of Streaming Users In US Are Sharing Their Passwords, Says Report (streamingobserver.com) 65

A new study conducted by Fluent shows a majority of Americans are sharing passwords to their streaming video services. While millennials lead the pack, non-millennials are doing the same. Streaming Observer reports: Nearly 3 out of every 4 (72% exactly) Americans who have cable also have access to at least one streaming service and 8% of cable subscribers plan to eliminate their service in the next year. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're paying for their streaming service. New numbers from a study conducted by Fluent show that the majority of Americans are sharing passwords to their streaming video services. Well over half of millennials (aged 18-34) -- 60% -- are either using someone someone else's password or giving their password to someone else. And just under half -- 48% -- of non-millennials are doing the same. The study also revealed that the main factor in what drives consumers to sign up for streaming video services is price, with 34% of Americans saying that low cost was the primary factor. That number jumps to 38% among millennials. When you take in to account that some streaming TV services start with prices as low as $20, it makes sense that price is the biggest issue. Convenience was the next biggest factor, coming in at just below 25%.

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