The Internet

Cord-Cutting Still Doesn't Beat the Cable Bundle (wired.com) 335

I'd like to cut the cord, writes Brian Barrett for Wired, then, the very instant I allow myself to picture what life looks like after that figurative snip, my reverie comes crashing down. From an article: Cutting the cord is absolutely right for some people. Lots of people, maybe. But it's not that cheap, and it's not that easy, and there's not much hope of improvement on either front any time soon. Not to turn this into a math experiment, but let's consider cost. Assuming you're looking for a cord replacement, not abandoning live television altogether, you're going to need a service that bundles together a handful of channels and blips them to your house over the internet. The cheapest way you can accomplish this is to pay Sling TV $20 per month, for which you get 29 channels. That sounds not so bad, and certainly less than your cable bill. But! Sling Orange limits you to a single stream. If you're in a household with others, you'll probably want Sling Blue, which offers multiple streams and 43 channels for $25 per month. But! Sling Orange and Sling Blue have different channel lineups (ESPN is on Orange, not Blue, while Orange lacks FX, Bravo and any locals). For full coverage, you can subscribe to both for $40. But! Have kids? You'll want the Kids Extra package for another $5 per month. Love ESPNU? Grab that $5 per month sports package. HBO? $15 per month, please. Presto, you're up to $65 per month. But! Don't forget the extra $5 for a cloud-based DVR. Plus the high-speed internet service that you need to keep your stream from buffering, which, by the way, it'll do anyway. That's not to pick on Sling TV, specifically. But paying $70 to quit cable feels like smoking a pack of Parliaments to quit Marlboro Lights. You run into similar situations across the board, whether it's a higher base rate, or a limited premium selection, or the absence of local programming altogether. It turns out, oddly enough, that things cost money, whether you access those things through traditional cable packages or through a modem provided to you by a traditional cable operator.
Privacy

Info on 1.8M Chicago Voters Was Publicly Accessible, But Now Removed From Cloud Service (chicagotribune.com) 27

A file containing the names, addresses, dates of birth and other information about Chicago's 1.8 million registered voters was published online and publicly accessible for an unknown period of time, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said this week. From a report: The acknowledgment came days after a data security researcher alerted officials to the existence of the unsecured files. The researcher found the files while conducting a search of items uploaded to Amazon Web Services, a cloud system that allows users to rent storage space and share files with certain people or the general public. The files had been uploaded by Election Systems & Software, a contractor that helps maintain Chicago's electronic poll books. Election Systems said in a statement that the files "did not include any ballot information or vote totals and were not in any way connected to Chicago's voting or tabulation systems." The company said it had "promptly secured" the files on Saturday evening and had launched "a full investigation, with the assistance of a third-party firm, to perform thorough forensic analyses of the AWS server." State and local officials were notified of the existence of the files Saturday by cybersecurity expert Chris Vickery, who works at the Mountain View, Calif. firm UpGuard.
Android

Essential Phone Will Ship Next Week, Shortly After Breaking $1 Billion Valuation (9to5google.com) 87

New submitter cloud.pt writes: Andy Rubin's Essential Phone will be released next week according to 9to5Google, just shy from its initial June mark. The company has been speculated to be worth around $1.2 billion, after giant Foxconn filed yesterday for a 0.25% acquisition at around $3 million -- clearing unicorn status as it hasn't shipped a single unit at the time. According to Engadget, future and existing pre-orders will have a chance to switch to the Pure White version of the slab, despite initial shipments being scheduled to be of the Black Moon variety. Essential's storefront orders will get the device unlocked, while the only parties offering the device will initially be Sprint. Rumor has it Amazon plans to sell the device as it invested in the company through its Alexa fund. No matter the contract attached, it will come with the full range of network capabilities unlocked.
Google

Google Updates Docs, Sheets and Slides With New Collaboration Features (techcrunch.com) 36

An anonymous reader writes: G Suite, Google's set of online productivity tools, is getting a major update today that adds a number of new features to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. Most of these updates focus around collaboration, but the service is also getting support for Google Cloud Search and the company is adding new templates and add-ons from partners like LegalZoom, DocuSign, LucidChart and others. [...] Google Docs Sheets and Slides now lets you track changes by saving multiple versions of a document with different names. The new integration with Google Cloud Search in Docs and Slides means that G Suite Business and Enterprise users will now be able to quickly find the right information from their internal documents without having to leave the editor.
Software

App Developers Should Charge More If They Want People To Buy Subscriptions, Suggests Report (theverge.com) 50

A new report from Liftoff, a Silicon Valley-based mobile app marketing and retargeting firm, says that subscription-based apps may do better if developers charge a higher price for services, rather than setting prices too low to lure users in initially. The Verge reports: The Liftoff report, which analyzed data gathered between June 2016 and June 2017, categorized app subscriptions into low-cost monthly subs ($0.99 to $7), medium ($7 to $20), and high-cost subs ($20 to $50), while also factoring the cost of acquisition per customer. The company found that apps in the medium price range had the highest conversion rate -- 7.16 percent -- and the lowest cost to acquire a subscriber, at just over $106 dollars. This was five times higher than the rate of people who subscribed to apps when the apps were in the low-cost category. This may partly be because streaming media apps, like Netflix and Spotify, have already conditioned people to pay around $10 a month for services. But it also might be attributable to the sunk cost fallacy, Liftoff says: the "cognitive bias people have that makes them stay the course because they have already spent time or resources on it." The report also examines apps that fulfill "need states," like dating apps or cloud services. These have the potential to offer services that customers are willing to pay for, again and again. But, according to Liftoff, utility apps have a much higher install-to-subscriber rate compared to dating apps. Blame those who eventually find love?
The Internet

Cloudflare is the One Tech Company Still Sticking By Neo-Nazi Websites (qz.com) 549

An anonymous reader shares a report: One company is sticking by The Daily Stormer and other far-right websites: the cloud security and performance service Cloudflare. Cloudflare acts as a shield between websites and the outside world, protecting them from hackers and preserving the anonymity of the sites' owners. But Cloudflare is not a hosting service: It does not store website content on its servers. And that fact, as far as the company is concerned, exempts it from judgment over who its clients are -- even if those clients are literally Nazis. In a statement Cloudflare sent to Quartz and other publications yesterday, the company refused to explicitly say it will continue to do business with sites like The Daily Stormer, but pointed out that the content would exist regardless of what Cloudflare does or doesn't do. "Cloudflare is aware of the concerns that have been raised over some sites that have used our network. We find the content on some of these sites repugnant. While our policy is to not comment on any user specifically, we are cooperating with law enforcement in any investigation. Cloudflare is not the host of any website. Cloudflare is a network that provides performance and security services to more than 10% of all Internet requests. Cloudflare terminating any user would not remove their content from the Internet, it would simply make a site slower and more vulnerable to attack."
UPDATE: The Daily Stormer now says Cloudflare has decided to drop their site after all.
AI

Elon Musk + AI + Microsoft = Awesome Dota 2 Player (theverge.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Tonight during Valve's yearly Dota 2 tournament, a surprise segment introduced what could be the best new player in the world -- a bot from Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI. Engineers from the nonprofit say the bot learned enough to beat Dota 2 pros in just two weeks of real-time learning, though in that training period they say it amassed "lifetimes" of experience, likely using a neural network judging by the company's prior efforts. Musk is hailing the achievement as the first time artificial intelligence has been able to beat pros in competitive e-sports... Elon Musk founded OpenAI as a nonprofit venture to prevent AI from destroying the world -- something Musk has been beating the drum about for years.
"Nobody likes being regulated," Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, "but everything (cars, planes, food, drugs, etc) that's a danger to the public is regulated. AI should be too."

Musk also thanked Microsoft on Twitter "for use of their Azure cloud computing platform. This required massive processing power."
Google

James Damore Explains Why He Was Fired By Google (wsj.com) 1253

In an exclusive Wall Street Journal post, the engineer responsible for the anti-diversity "Google manifesto," James Damore, explains why he was fired by the company: I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company's code of conduct and "cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company's "ideological echo chamber." My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument? [...]

In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored. Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed -- that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same -- could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google's human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement. Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn't really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

AI

Blizzard and DeepMind Turn StarCraft II Into An AI Research Lab (techcrunch.com) 52

Last year, Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind said it was going to work with Starcraft creator Blizzard to turn the strategy game into a proper research environment for AI engineers. Today, they're opening the doors to that environment, with new tools including a machine learning API, a large game replay dataset, an open source DeepMind toolset and more. TechCrunch reports: The new release of the StarCraft II API on the Blizzard side includes a Linux package made to be able to run in the cloud, as well as support for Windows and Mac. It also has support for offline AI vs. AI matches, and those anonymized game replays from actual human players for training up agents, which is starting out at 65,000 complete matches, and will grow to over 500,000 over the course of the next few weeks. StarCraft II is such a useful environment for AI research basically because of how complex and varied the games can be, with multiple open routes to victory for each individual match. Players also have to do many different things simultaneously, including managing and generating resources, as well as commanding military units and deploying defensive structures. Plus, not all information about the game board is available at once, meaning players have to make assumptions and predictions about what the opposition is up to.

It's such a big task, in fact, that DeepMind and Blizzard are including "mini-games" in the release, which break down different subtasks into "manageable chunks," including teaching agents to master tasks like building specific units, gathering resources, or moving around the map. The hope is that compartmentalizing these areas of play will allow testing and comparison of techniques from different researchers on each, along with refinement, before their eventual combination in complex agents that attempt to master the whole game.

Cloud

Cisco Meraki Loses Customer Data in Engineering Gaffe (cloudpro.co.uk) 63

Cisco has admitted to losing customer data during a configuration change its enginners applied to its Meraki cloud managed IT service. From a report: Specific data uploaded to Cisco Meraki before 11:20 am PT last Thursday was deleted after engineers created an erroneous policy in a configuration change to its US object storage service, Cisco admitted on Friday. The company did say that the issue has been fixed, and while the error will not affect network operations in most cases, it admitted the faulty policy "but will be an inconvenience as some of your data may have been lost." Cisco hasn't said how many of its 140,000+ Meraki customers have been affected. The deleted data includes custom floor plans, logos, enterprise apps and voicemail greetings found on users' dashboard, systems manager and phones. The engineering team was working over the weekend to find out whether the data can be recovered and potentially build tools so that customers can find out what data has been lost.
Cloud

Apple's Adoption Of HEVC Will Drive A Massive Increase In Encoding Costs Requiring Cloud Hardware Acceleration (streamingmedia.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares a report: For the last 10 years, H.264/AVC has been the dominant video codec used for streaming but with Apple adopting H.265/HEVC in iOS 11 and Google heavily supporting VP9 in Android, a change is on the horizon. Next year the Alliance for Open Media will release their AV1 codec which will again improve video compression efficiency even further. But the end result is that the codec market is about to get very fragmented, with content owners soon having to decide if they need to support three codecs (H.264, H.265, and VP9) instead of just H.264 and with AV1 expected to be released in 2019. As a result of what's take place in the codec market, and with better quality video being demanded by consumers, content owners, broadcasters and OTT providers are starting to see a massive increase in encoding costs. New codecs like H.265 and VP9 need 5x the servers costs because of their complexity. Currently, AV1 needs over 20x the server costs. The mix of SD, HD and UHD continues to move to better quality: e.g. HDR, 10-bit and higher frame rates. Server encoding cost to move from 1080p SDR to 4K HDR is 5x. 360 and Facebook's 6DoF video are also growing in consumption by consumers which again increases encoding costs by at least 4x. If you add up all these variables, it's not hard to do the math and see that for some, encoding costs could increase by 500x over the next few years as new codecs, higher quality video, 360 video and general demand increases.
Censorship

Joining Apple, Amazon's China Cloud Service Bows To Censors (nytimes.com) 51

Days after Apple yanked anti-censorship tools off its app store in China, another major American technology company is moving to implement the country's tough restrictions on online content. From a report: A Chinese company that operates Amazon's cloud-computing and online services business there said on Tuesday that it told local customers to cease using any software that would allow Chinese to circumvent the country's extensive system of internet blocks (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The company, called Beijing Sinnet Technology and operator of the American company's Amazon Web Services operations in China, sent one round of emails to customers on Friday and another on Monday. "If users don't comply with the guidance, the offered services and their websites can be shut down," said a woman surnamed Wang who answered a Sinnet service hotline. "We the operators also check routinely if any of our users use these softwares or store illegal content." Ms. Wang said the letter was sent according to recent guidance from China's Ministry of Public Security and the country's telecom regulator. Amazon did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment. The emails are the latest sign of a widening push by China's government to block access to software that gets over the Great Firewall -- the nickname for the sophisticated internet filters that China uses to stop its people from gaining access to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as foreign news media outlets.
Government

FCC Says Its Specific Plan To Stop DDoS Attacks Must Remain Secret (arstechnica.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Democratic lawmakers have been exchanging letters about a May 8 incident in which the public comments website was disrupted while many people were trying to file comments on Pai's plan to dismantle net neutrality rules. The FCC says it was hit by DDoS attacks. The commission hasn't revealed much about what it's doing to prevent future attacks, but it said in a letter last month that it was researching "additional solutions" to protect the comment system. Democratic Leaders of the House Commerce and Oversight committees then asked Pai what those additional solutions are, but they didn't get much detail in return.

"Given the ongoing nature of the threats to disrupt the Commission's electronic comment ling system, it would undermine our system's security to provide a specific roadmap of the additional solutions to which we have referred," the FCC chief information officer wrote. "However, we can state that the FCC's IT staff has worked with commercial cloud providers to implement Internetbased solutions to limit the amount of disruptive bot-related activity if another bot-driven event occurs." The CIO's answers to lawmakers' questions were sent along with a letter from Pai to Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), DeGette (D-Colo.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), and Gerald Connolly (D-Va.). The letter is dated July 21, and it was posted to the FCC's website on July 28.

Cloud

Microsoft Further Pledges Linux Loyalty, Joins Cloud Native Computing Foundation (betanews.com) 109

BrianFagioli quotes BetaNews: Today, Microsoft further pledges its loyalty to Linux and open source by becoming a platinum member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. If you aren't familiar, the CNCF is a part of the well-respected Linux Foundation (of which Microsoft is also a member). With the Windows-maker increasingly focusing its efforts on the cloud -- and profiting from it -- this seems like a match made in heaven. In fact, Dan Kohn, Executive Director of the foundation says, "We are honored to have Microsoft, widely recognized as one of the most important enterprise technology and cloud providers in the world, join CNCF as a platinum member."

"CNCF is a part of the Linux Foundation, which helps govern for a wide range of cloud-oriented open source projects, such as Kubernetes, Prometheus, OpenTracing, Fluentd, Linkerd, containerd, Helm, gRPC, and many others," says John Gossman Azure Architect, Microsoft. "Since we joined the Linux Foundation last year, and now have decided to expand that relationship to CNCF membership as a natural next step to invest in open source communities and code at multiple levels, especially in the area of containers."

The announcement notes that Microsoft has already been contributing code to the Kubernetes project, "as well as running Kubernetes as part of the Azure Container Service."
Open Source

FreeBSD 11.1 Released (freebsd.org) 219

Billly Gates writes: Linux is not the only free open-source operating system. FreeBSD, which is based off of the historical BSD Unix in which TCP/IP was developed on from the University of California at Berkeley, has been updated. It does not include systemd nor PulseAudio and is popular in many web server installations and networking devices. FreeBSD 11.1 is out with improvements in UEFI and Amazon cloud support in addition to updated userland programs. EFI improvements including a new utility efivar(8) to manage UEFI variables, EFI boot from TFTP or NFS, as well as Microsoft Hyper-V UEFI and Secure Boot for generation 2 virtual machines for both Windows Server and Windows 10 Professional hosts. FreeBSD 11.1 also has extended support Amazon Cloud features. A new networking stack for Amazon has been added with the ena(4) driver, which adds support for Amazon EC2 platform. This also adds support for using Amazon EC2 NFS shares and support for the Amazon Elastic Filesystem for NFS. For application updates, FreeBSD 11.1 Clang, LLVM, LLD, LLDB, and libc++ to version 4.0.0. ZFS has been updated too with a new zfsbootcfg with minor performance improvements. Downloads are here which include Sparc, PowerPC, and even custom SD card images for Raspberry Pi, Beagle-bone and other devices.

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