Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 1

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
IT

Internet Traffic To Major Tech Firms Mysteriously Rerouted To Russia (securityweek.com) 37

wiredmikey writes: Internet traffic to some of the world's largest tech firms was briefly rerouted to Russia earlier this week in what appeared to be a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) attack. Internet monitoring service BGPmon noticed that 80 IP prefixes for organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, NTT Communications, Twitch and Riot Games had been announced by a Russian Autonomous System (AS).

It happened twice on Tuesday and each time it only lasted for roughly three minutes. The first event took place between 04:43 and 04:46 UTC, and the second between 07:07 and 07:10 UTC. Despite being short-lived, BGPmon said the incidents were significant, including due to the fact that the announcements were picked up by several peers and some large ISPs, such as Hurricane Electric and Zayo in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, and NORDUnet, which is a joint project of several Nordic countries. The incident is rather suspicious, as the prefixes that were affected are all high profile destinations, as well as several more specific prefixes that aren't normally seen on the Internet.

News

Wine Glasses Are Seven Times Larger Than They Used To Be (theguardian.com) 140

An anonymous reader shares a report: Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors may have enjoyed a Christmas tipple but -- judging by the size of the glasses they used -- they probably drank less wine than we do today. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption. Wine glasses have swelled in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml today, the study reveals -- a change that may have encouraged us to drink far more than is healthy. Indeed, a typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today's smallest "official" measure of 125ml.
Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 107

Internet giants such as Google and Facebook must pay copyright charges for using news content on their platforms, nine European press agencies said. These giant platforms, news agencies said, make vast profits from news content on their platforms. The call comes at a time when the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to. From a report: "Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde. "Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground." The agencies argued, "access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth."
News

Almost 100 Million People a Year 'Forced To Choose Between Food and Healthcare' (theguardian.com) 237

Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of debts accrued through healthcare expenses. From a report: A report, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank this week, found the poorest and most vulnerable people are routinely forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities for their household, including food and education, subsisting on $1.90 a day. Researchers found that more than 122 million people around the world are forced to live on $3.10 a day, the benchmark for "moderate poverty," due to healthcare expenditure. Since 2000, this number has increased by 1.5% a year. A total of 800 million people spend more than 10% of their household budgets on "out-of-pocket" health expenses, defined as costs not covered by insurance. Almost 180 million people spend a quarter or more, a population increasing at a rate of almost 5% per year, with women among those worst affected.
Microsoft

Microsoft Unveils Improved AI-powered Search Features for Bing (engadget.com) 33

Microsoft unveiled a handful of new intelligent search features for Bing at an event held in San Francisco this week. From a report: Powered by AI, the search updates are meant to provide more thorough answers and allow for more conversational or general search queries. First, when answering a question, Bing will now validate its answers by sourcing a number of websites, not just one. And in cases where there are two valid perspectives, like, for example, in response to the question, "Is cholesterol bad," they'll be aggregated and Bing will show both at the top of the search page. Additionally, when there's more than one way to answer a query, Bing will provide a carousel of answers. The Bing team is also adding relevant analogies or comparisons to search answers that make the provided information easier to understand. [...] Bing will also help users find answers to broad or conversational queries by asking clarifying questions that will help refine the search. And Microsoft also introduced Bing's advanced image search capabilities, which will now let users search images or objects within images to, for example, help them track down a particular fashion item they'd like to purchase.
Communications

FCC's Own Chief Technology Officer Warned About Net Neutrality Repeal (politico.com) 114

Margaret Harding McGill, reporting for Politico: The Federal Communications Commission's own chief technology officer expressed concern Wednesday about Republican Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to repeal the net neutrality rules, saying it could lead to practices that are "not in the public interest." In an internal email to all of the FCC commissioner offices, CTO Eric Burger, who was appointed by Pai in October, said the No. 1 issue with the repeal is concern that internet service providers will block or throttle specific websites, according to FCC sources who viewed the message. "Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all," Burger said in the email. "If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the [Federal Trade Commission] can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest."
Businesses

Disney Makes Deal for 21st Century Fox, Reshaping Entertainment Landscape (nytimes.com) 131

Disney is going all in for its upcoming fight with Netflix and other streaming giants. The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. From a report: To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. While the merger still requires approval by antitrust regulators -- and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger -- the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video. Alternative source: Variety.
Communications

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Has Critics In Raptures (bbc.com) 210

gollum123 shares a report from BBC: "Rousing." "Thrilling." "Addictively bold." Just a few of the superlatives the critics are using to describe the latest film in the Star Wars saga. The Last Jedi, writes the Telegraph, is "enormous fun" and "will leave fans beaming with surprise." The Guardian calls it "an explosive sugar rush of spectacle" possessing "a tidal wave of energy and emotion." Variety, though, swims against the tide, describing it as "the longest and least essential chapter in the series." Rian Johnson's film, says Peter Debruge, is "ultimately a disappointment" that "gives in to the same winking self-parody that is poisoning other franchises of late." Writing in The Verge, Tasha Robinson tends to agree: "Audiences will likely come away from The Last Jedi with a lot of complaints and questions." Driver's Kylo Ren is singled out for praise by USA Today, who describe the character as "blockbuster cinema's most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger's Dark Knight Joker." Have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? If so, how do you think it stacks up against the others in the saga?
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 127

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Security

Author of BrickerBot Malware Retires, Says He Bricked 10 Million IoT Devices (bleepingcomputer.com) 123

An anonymous reader writes: The author of BrickerBot -- the malware that bricks IoT devices -- has announced his retirement in an email to Bleeping Computer, also claiming to have bricked over 10 million devices since he started the "Internet Chemotherapy" project in November 2016. Similar to the authors of the Mirai malware, the BrickerBot developer dumped his malware's source code online, allowing other crooks to profit from his code. The code is said to contain at least one zero-day. In a farewell message left on hundreds of hacked routers, the BrickerBot author also published a list of incidents (ISP downtimes) he caused, while also admitting he is likely to have drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies. "There's also only so long that I can keep doing something like this before the government types are able to correlate my likely network routes (I have already been active for far too long to remain safe). For a while now my worst-case scenario hasn't been going to jail, but simply vanishing in the middle of the night as soon as some unpleasant government figures out who I am," the hacker said.
Cloud

Trump Administration Calls For Government IT To Adopt Cloud Services (reuters.com) 170

According to Reuters, The White House said Wednesday the U.S. government needs a major overhaul of information technology systems and should take steps to better protect data and accelerate efforts to use cloud-based technology. The report outlined a timeline over the next year for IT reforms and a detailed implementation plan. One unnamed cloud-based email provider has agreed to assist in keeping track of government spending on cloud-based email migration. From the report: The report said the federal government must eliminate barriers to using commercial cloud-based technology. "Federal agencies must consolidate their IT investments and place more trust in services and infrastructure operated by others," the report found. Government agencies often pay dramatically different prices for the same IT item, the report said, sometimes three or four times as much. A 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion on IT annually but said spending has fallen by $7.3 billion since 2010. In 2015, there were at least 7,000 separate IT investments by the U.S. government. The $80 billion figure does not include Defense Department classified IT systems and 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The GAO report found some agencies are using systems that have components that are at least 50 years old.
Open Source

Avast Launches Open-Source Decompiler For Machine Code (techspot.com) 89

Greg Synek reports via TechSpot: To help with the reverse engineering of malware, Avast has released an open-source version of its machine-code decompiler, RetDec, that has been under development for over seven years. RetDec supports a variety of architectures aside from those used on traditional desktops including ARM, PIC32, PowerPC and MIPS. As Internet of Things devices proliferate throughout our homes and inside private businesses, being able to effectively analyze the code running on all of these new devices becomes a necessity to ensure security. In addition to the open-source version found on GitHub, RetDec is also being provided as a web service.

Simply upload a supported executable or machine code and get a reasonably rebuilt version of the source code. It is not possible to retrieve the exact original code of any executable compiled to machine code but obtaining a working or almost working copy of equivalent code can greatly expedite the reverse engineering of software. For any curious developers out there, a REST API is also provided to allow third-party applications to use the decompilation service. A plugin for IDA disassembler is also available for those experienced with decompiling software.

Software

T-Mobile Is Becoming a Cable Company (engadget.com) 82

T-Mobile has revealed that it's launching a TV service in 2018, and that is has acquired Layer3 TV (a company that integrates TV, streaming and social networking) to make this happen. The company thinks people are ditching cable due to the providers, not TV itself. Engadget reports: It claims that it can "uncarrier" TV the way it did with wireless service, and has already targeted a few areas it thinks it can fix: it doesn't like the years-long contracts, bloated bundles, outdated tech and poor customer service that are staples of TV service in the U.S. T-Mobile hasn't gone into detail about the functionality of the service yet. How will it be delivered? How much will it cost? Where will it be available? And will this affect the company's free Netflix offer? This is more a declaration of intent than a concrete roadmap, so it's far from certain that the company will live up to its promises. Ultimately, the move represents a big bet on T-Mobile's part: that people like TV and are cutting the cord based on a disdain for the companies, not the service. There's a degree of truth to that when many Americans are all too familiar with paying ever-increasing rates to get hundreds of channels they don't watch. However, there's no guarantee that it'll work in an era when many people (particularly younger people) are more likely to use Netflix, YouTube or a streaming TV service like Sling TV.
Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 362

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

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