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Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 5

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
The Courts

It Will Soon Be Illegal To Punish US Customers Who Criticize Businesses Online (arstechnica.com) 34

An anonymous reader writes: Congress has passed a law protecting the right of U.S. consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies. The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act -- full text available here -- voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews.

Mozilla

VM-Neutral Node.js API Unveiled, As NodeSource Collaborates With Microsoft, Mozilla, Intel and IBM (medium.com) 16

An anonymous reader writes: This week saw the first proof of concept for Node.js API (or NAPI for short), "making module maintainers' lives easier by defining a stable module API that is independent from changes in [Google's JavaScript engine] V8 and allowing modules to run against newer versions of Node.js without recompilation." Their announcement cites both the efforts of the Node.js API working group and of ChakraCore, the core part of the Chakra Javascript engine that powers Microsoft Edge.

And there was also a second announcement -- that the Node.js build system "will start producing nightly node-chakracore builds, enabling Node.js to be used with the ChakraCore JavaScript engine. "These initial efforts are stepping stones to make Node.js VM-neutral, which would allow more opportunities for Node.js in IoT and mobile use cases as well as a variety of different systems."

One IBM runtime developer called it "a concrete step toward the strategic end goal of VM neutrality," and the Node.js Foundation believes that the API will ultimately result in "more modules to choose from, and more stability with modules without the need to continually upgrade."
EU

Drupal Event Apologizes For Giving Out Copies Of Playboy (drupalcamp.de) 95

An anonymous reader writes: The organization team for a regional Drupal event apologized Thursday for distributing copies of Playboy to attendees. The magazines were distributed in welcome bags, according to a statement from the organizers of DrupalCamp Munich, and "were provided by Burda, a major German publisher, who also provided other technical magazines as part of their sponsorship. These magazines were approved for inclusion by the camp organizers.

"At the time, we thought it would be a good idea, as playboy.de was one of the first major Drupal 8 websites ever released. Upon reflection, this wasn't the best idea, and the magazines have been removed... It was a decision made in poor taste, and we regret it.

The inclusion of the magazine had attracted criticism on Twitter from both male and female developers, with one writing sarcastically, "Dunno about you, but I only read playboy.de for the Drupal code."
China

China's New 'Social Credit Score' Law Means Full Access To Customer Data (insurancejournal.com) 46

AnonymousCube shares this quote about China's new 'Social Credit Score' law from an insurance industry magazine: "Companies are also required to give government investigators complete access to their data if there is suspected wrong-doing, and Internet operators must cooperate in any national security or crime-related investigation."

Note that China has an extremely flexible definition of "national security". Additionally computer equipment will need to undergo mandatory certification, that could involve giving up source code, encryption keys, or even proprietary intellectual data, as Microsoft has been doing for some time.

The article suggests businesses like insurers "will likely see the cost of complying with this new action as a disincentive to conducting business in China."

Submission + - Virginia spent over half a million on cell surveillance that mostly doesn't work (muckrock.com)

v3rgEz writes: In 2014, the Virginia State Police spent $585,265 on a specially modified Suburban outfitted with the latest and greatest in cell phone surveillance: The DRT 1183C, affectionately known as the DRTbox. But according to logs uncovered by public records website MuckRock, the pricey ride was only used 12 times — and only worked 7 of those times. Read the full DRTbox documents at MuckRock.
Chrome

Chrome 55 Now Blocks Flash, Uses HTML5 By Default (bleepingcomputer.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer: Chrome 55, released earlier this week, now blocks all Adobe Flash content by default, according to a plan set in motion by Google engineers earlier this year... While some of the initial implementation details of the "HTML5 By Default" plan changed since then, Flash has been phased out in favor of HTML5 as the primary technology for playing multimedia content in Chrome.

Google's plan is to turn off Flash and use HTML5 for all sites. Where HTML5 isn't supported, Chrome will prompt users and ask them if they want to run Flash to view multimedia content. The user's option would be remembered for subsequent visits, but there's also an option in the browser's settings section, under Settings > Content Settings > Flash > Manage Exceptions, where users can add the websites they want to allow Flash to run by default.

Exceptions will also be made automatically for your more frequently-visited sites -- which, for many users, will include YouTube. And Chrome will continue to ship with Flash -- as well as an option to re-enable Flash on all sites.

Submission + - An Emacs Lisp JIT Compiler Released (github.com)

kruhft writes: An Emacs Lisp JIT compiler has been released showing a 25% speedup improvement with the benchmarked raytracer. Using libjit, it 'compiles down the spine' of the bytecode vectors, moving the overhead of the interpreter loop into the hardware execution unit. Work in progress, but a good start on speeding up emacs overall. Thoughts?
Encryption

Encryption Backdoor Sneaks Into UK Law (theregister.co.uk) 83

Coisiche found a disturbing article from The Register about the U.K.'s new "Snoopers' Charter" law that has implications for tech companies around the world: Among the many unpleasant things in the Investigatory Powers Act that was officially signed into law this week, one that has not gained as much attention is the apparent ability for the U.K. government to undermine encryption and demand surveillance backdoors... As per the final wording of the law, comms providers on the receiving end of a "technical capacity notice" will be obliged to do various things on demand for government snoops -- such as disclosing details of any system upgrades and removing "electronic protection" on encrypted communications. Thus, by "technical capability," the government really means backdoors and deliberate security weaknesses so citizens' encrypted online activities can be intercepted, deciphered and monitored... At the end of the day, will the U.K. security services be able to read your email, your messages, your posts and private tweets, and your communications if they believe you pose a threat to national security? Yes, they will.
The bill added the Secretaries of State as a required signatory to the "technical capacity" notices, which "introduces a minor choke-point and a degree of accountability." But the article argues the law ultimately anticipates the breaking of encryption, and without customer notification. "The U.K. government can certainly insist that a company not based in the U.K. carry out its orders -- that situation is specifically included in the new law -- but as to whether it can realistically impose such a requirement, well, that will come down to how far those companies are willing to push back and how much they are willing to walk away from the U.K. market."

Submission + - Chrome 55 Now Blocks Flash, Uses HTML5 by Default (bleepingcomputer.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Chrome 55, released earlier this week, now blocks all Adobe Flash content by default, according to a plan set in motion by Google engineers earlier this year, in May. While some of the initial implementation details of the "HTML5 By Default" plan changed since then, Flash has been phased out in favor of HTML5 as the primary technology for playing multimedia content in Chrome.

Google's plan is to turn off Flash and use HTML5 for all sites. Where HTML5 isn't supported, Chrome will prompt users and ask them if they want to run Flash to view multimedia content. The user's option would be remembered for subsequent visits, but to avoid overprompting, Chrome 55 will use a system called Site Engagement (chrome://site-engagement).

Perl

Perl Advent Calendar Enters Its 17th Year (perladvent.org) 21

An anonymous reader writes: Thursday brought this year's first new posts on the Perl Advent Calendar, a geeky tradition first started back in 2000. Friday's post described Santa's need for fast, efficient code, and the day that a Christmas miracle occurred during Santa's annual code review (involving the is_hashref subroutine from Perl's reference utility library). And for the last five years, the calendar has also had its own Twitter feed.

But in another corner of the North Pole, you can also unwrap the Perl 6 Advent Calendar, which this year celebrates the one-year anniversary of the official launch of Perl 6. Friday's post was by brian d foy, a writer on the classic Perl textbooks Learning Perl and Intermediate Perl (who's now also crowdfunding his next O'Reilly book, Learning Perl 6). foy's post talked about Perl 6's object hashes, while the calendar kicked off its new season Thursday with a discussion about creating Docker images using webhooks triggered by GitHub commits as an example of Perl 6's "whipupitude".

Submission + - The Lack of Women in Cybersecurity is a Problem and a Threat (securityledger.com)

chicksdaddy writes: The devaluation of traditionally “soft” skills like empathy, communication and collaboration in the information security space may be hampering the ability of IT security teams to respond to human-focused threats and attacks, according to this article at The Security Ledger. (https://securityledger.com/2016/12/cybers-lack-of-women-a-problem-and-threat/)

Failing to prioritize skills like empathy, communication, and collaboration and the people who have them (regardless of their gender) and focusing on "hard skills" (technical expertise) "limits our conceptions of security solutions and increases risks to our systems and users."

The problem goes beyond phishing attacks and social engineering, too. “Studies have shown that projects that embrace diversity are more successful. It’s a simple truth that people with different life backgrounds and life experiences bring unique perspectives to problem-solving,” says Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. policy manager at Access Now.

In short: "when we keep hiring technologists to solve problems, we get keep getting technical solutions." Too often, such technical fixes fail to account for the human environment in which they will be deployed. “It’s prioritizing a ‘tech first’—not a ‘human first’ or ‘empathy first’—perspective,” says Dr. Sara “Scout” Sinclair Brody, the executive director of Simply Secure.

This isn’t the first article to raise a red flag over the technology sector's glaring shortage of empathy. (http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/silicon-valley-has-an-empathy-vacuum).

And while instilling empathy and compassion in adults who lack it might seem like a tall order, the piece argues that it isn't an unsolvable problem: there are entire fields—like user experience and human-centered design—dedicated to improving the way humans and technology interact. “Shockingly little of that,” says Brody, “has made it into the security domain.”

Republicans

Of 8 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump (theintercept.com) 408

On the campaign trail last year, President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database. While he has back-stepped on a number of campaign promises after being elected president, Trump and his transition team have recently resurfaced the idea to create a national Muslim registry. In response, The Intercept contacted nine of the "most prominent" technology companies in the United States "to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry." Twitter was the only company that responded with "No." The Intercept reports: Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand -- pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn't take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We'd also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that "most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.") With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: "Would [name of company], if solicited by the Trump administration, sell any goods, services, information, or consulting of any kind to help facilitate the creation of a national Muslim registry, a project which has been floated tentatively by the president-elect's transition team?" After two weeks of calls and emails, only three companies provided an answer, and only one said it would not participate in such a project. A complete tally is below.

Facebook: No answer. Twitter: "No," and a link to this blog post, which states as company policy a prohibition against the use, by outside developers, of "Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period." Microsoft: "We're not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point," and a link to a company blog post that states that "we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but [...] inclusive culture" and that "it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time." Google: No answer. Apple: No answer. IBM: No answer. Booz Allen Hamilton: Declined to comment. SRA International: No answer.

Businesses

Survey Says: Elon Musk Is Most Admired Tech Leader, Topping Bezos and Zuckerberg (teslarati.com) 93

First Round Capital conducted a poll of 700 tech company founders and found Elon Musk to be the most admired leader in the technology industry. Elon Musk received 23 percent of the votes; 10 percent said Amazon's Jeff Bezos, 6 percent said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and 5 percent wrote in Steve Jobs. First Round writes: "We launched State of Startups to capture what it means to be an entrepreneur. We asked the leaders of venture-backed companies about everything from the fundraising environment to their working relationships with their co-founders to their office's price per square foot. [...] Once again, we asked founders to write in which current tech leader they admire the most and we tallied 125 names. The Tesla and SpaceX leader held firm at the top spot (23%)..." Teslarati reports: While the survey did not ask respondents to explain their choice, it is safe to assume that Elon's propensity for setting lofty and visionary goals, and then being able to execute on them, is one trait admired most by tech founders. Most recently, Musk moved the scheduled start of production for the upcoming Model 3 midsize sedan forward by a full two years. Tesla also recently celebrated a record-setting third quarter and has been moving aggressively to close the second half of this year with 50,000 cars delivered. The company has announced a series of sweeteners to motivate people to order and take delivery of new vehicles before the end of the year. Unlimited Supercharger access for long distance travel and a, then, upcoming price hike on its entry level Model S 60, announced by the Palo Alto-based electric car maker and energy company, were incentives to stimulate sales. With plans to increase annual vehicle production by a factor of ten to twenty-fold by the end of the decade, send humans to mars and transform the energy sector, Musk's innovative solutions to rewrite humanity as we know it joins an elite rank held by few genius inventors and industrialists who have gone on to change the world.
Earth

Alien Life Could Thrive In the Clouds of Failed Stars (sciencemag.org) 55

sciencehabit writes: There's an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home -- and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts. The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. "You don't necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface," says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study. Atmospheric life isn't just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth's surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called "sinkers." Other organisms could be balloonlike "floaters," which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus's inhospitable surface. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan's calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth's atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan's floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.

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