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Transportation

Uber Face Fines Over Drunk Driving Complaints -- And Lost $2.8 Billion Last Year (usnews.com) 133

While Uber's bookings doubled last year, the company still showed a net lost of $2.8 billion. And now, "California regulators are recommending that Uber pay a $1.13 million fine for not investigating rider complaints that drivers were working intoxicated." An anonymous reader writes: California "requires ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs," notes Reuters -- and yet Tuesday's order reports that investigators "found no evidence that (Uber) followed up in any way with zero-tolerance complaints several hours or even one full day after passengers filed such complaints." Investigators from the state's Public Utilities Commission are asking the full commission to examine their findings,

"To confirm the policy, regulators analyzed selected complaints against drivers who received three or more complaints," Reuters reports. Though Uber has sometimes suspended drivers within one hour of customer complaints -- 22 times -- they've apparently received 2,047 drug- or alcohol-related complaints between August 2014 and August of 2015. "The company said drivers were banned from working in 574 of those complaints, according to the order. But regulators then reviewed 154 complaints, and determined that the company failed to promptly suspend drivers in 149 complaints. The company also failed to investigate 133 complaints, and did not suspend a driver or investigate 113 complaints, the order shows... In at least 25 instances, Uber failed to suspend or investigate a driver after three or more complaints, the order states."

An Uber spokeswoman said the company had no comment, but "Adding to Uber's challenges, a Reuters investigation found a ten-fold increase in attacks on drivers in Sao Paulo last year, including several murders, after the start of cash payments on its platform at the end of July." And in addition, a judge in Brazil ruled last week that Uber's drivers are employees, which could make Uber liable for a variety of benefits, following a similar ruling in another Brazilian state court.

But there's also some good news for Uber. A court in Rome suspended a ban on Uber in Italy until the company finishes its legal appeal, and a two-month suspension in Taiwan also came to an end after Uber agreed to partner with license rental car companies.
IBM

After 25 Years, 'Lost' OS/2 2.0 Build 6.605 Finally Re-Discovered (os2museum.com) 93

"In a fascinating example of poor timing, disk images of OS/2 2.0 pre-release level 6.605 from July/September 1991 were missing for over 25 years, only to show up literally one day after after the 25th anniversary of the OS/2 2.0 release," writes the site OS/2 Museum. An anonymous reader writes: It's the last OS/2 2.0 pre-release which didn't use the Workplace Shell (WPS), but "instead utilized the same old Desktop Manager as OS/2 1.2/1.3, which makes it the closest surviving relative of the Microsoft OS/2 2.0 SDK." Featuring a 16-bit/32-bit hybrid kernel and a "DOS Window" icon (as well as a few games like Reversi and Klondike Solitaire), "the look and feel was not quite the same as OS/2 1.3 and in fact was a cross between OS/2 1.3 and Windows 3.1."
The elusive 6.605 pre-release fell between 6.149 and 6.167 -- and "It is not known what possessed IBM to assign it a completely out-of-sequence number."
Programming

Salary-Comparing Survey Identifies Top-Paid Developers, Discovers North America Pays Better (linux.com) 267

21,000 developers were surveyed for this year's annual survey by VisionMobile -- and for the first time, they were asked about their salaries. An anonymous reader quotes Linux.com: [S]killed cloud and backend developers, as well as those who work in emerging technologies including Internet of Things, machine learning and augmented/virtual reality can make more money than frontend web and mobile developers whose skills have become more commoditized... The top 10 percent of salary earners in AR who live in North America earn a median salary of $219,000, compared with $169,000 for the top earning 10 percent of backend developers, according to the report... New, unskilled developers interested in emerging tech will have a harder time finding work, and earn less than their counterparts in more commoditized areas, due both to their lack of experience and fewer companies hiring in the early market.

Along with skill level and software sector, developer salaries also vary widely by where they live in the world. A web developer in North America earns a median income of $73,600 USD per year, compared with the same developer in Western Europe whose median income is $35,400 USD. Web developers in South Asia earn $11,700 in South Asia while those in Eastern Europe earn $20,800 per year.

For developers who want to move up in the world, VisionMobile suggests "Invest in your skills. Do difficult work. Improve your English. Look for opportunities internationally. Go for it. You deserve it!"
Transportation

Amazon's Drone-Delivery Dreams Are No Joke (backchannel.com) 147

Backchannel's Steven Levy reports that Amazon "has a site at an undisclosed semi-rural location where it attempts to simulate the possible obstacles that drones will face in real-world deliveries." Amazon's drones reach speeds of 60 miles per hour, and can perform a 20-mile round trip, which makes Amazon believe they could especially useful deliveries to the suburbs, some rural areas. "The facility features a faux backyard and other simulated locations where drones might have to drop off their cargo." An anonymous reader quotes their report: "For a while, we were missing clotheslines," says Paul Viola, an AI expert who is charge of Prime Air's autonomy efforts. Now, Amazon's vehicles have a "Don't Hit Clotheslines!" rule in their code. There's even a simulated dog (though not a robot) that Amazon uses to see how the vehicles will respond to canine threats... Amazon is also planning for urban deliveries, with the idea of landing drones on rooftops [and] eventually it might expand to multiple deliveries per expedition, or even take returns back to the warehouse...

All of this is done without human intervention. Drones know where to go and how to get there without a human sitting at a ground station actually flying the plane... [A]n Air Prime technician can order a drone to land, but ultimately the drones are autonomous. Amazon envisions that eventually it will have sort of an air traffic controller monitoring the flight patterns of multiple drones.

If something goes wrong, "the first rule of Amazon drones is to abort the flight, returning to base or even carefully finding a landing spot from which to send a rescue signal. 'If it doesn't seem safe, it will land as soon as safely possible,' says Gur Kimchi, who has headed the Prime Air team for four years. (He previously worked at Microsoft.)"
Software

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware (vice.com) 500

Tractor owners across the country are reportedly hacking their John Deere tractors using firmware that's cracked in Easter Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums. The reason is because John Deere and other manufacturers have "made it impossible to perform 'unauthorized' repair on farm equipment," which has obviously upset many farmers who see it "as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time," reports Jason Koebler via Motherboard. As is the case with most modern-day engineering vehicles, the mechanical problems experienced with the newer farming tractors are often remedied via software. From the report: The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about it. A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment [...] arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors. "If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic -- he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part." "What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market," he added.
Sci-Fi

Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life (theverge.com) 187

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.
Security

Michael Flynn Resigns As Trump's National Security Adviser (go.com) 895

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: President Donald Trump's embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn, who faced questions about a call to the Russian ambassador prior to the inauguration, has resigned. Retired Army General Keith Kellogg was named acting national security adviser to replace Flynn. ABC News reported Monday that Flynn called Vice President Mike Pence on Friday to apologize for misleading him about his conversation with the ambassador in November. Flynn previously denied that he spoke about sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia for its suspected interference in the 2016 election, a claim repeated by Pence in January. An administration official later claimed Pence was relying on information provided to him by Flynn. In his resignation later, Flynn cited the "fast pace of events" for "inadvertently" briefing "the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding [his] phone calls with the Russian Ambassador." You can view Flynn's full resignation letter, as provided by the White House, here.
Transportation

How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns (ndtv.com) 359

Some people probably already know this, but for those who don't: UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route, they are saving millions of dollars in fuel costs. From a report: The company decided on eliminating left turns (or right turns in left-hand driving countries such as India) wherever possible after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic. So, it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey. This meant that drivers do not have to wait in traffic to take a left turn and can take the right turn at junctions. Of course, the algorithm does not entirely eliminate left turns, but the number of left turns taken by UPS trucks is less than 10 percent of all turns made. Turns out that UPS was right -- the idea really paid off. In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns. A recent report by The Independent says that the total reduction in distance traveled by UPS trucks now stands at 45.8 million miles, and there are 1,100 fewer trucks in its fleet because of the algorithm. Even by conservative estimates, that's tens of millions of dollar of savings in fuel costs. Senior VP Bob Stoffel explained how it works on CNN a few years ago.
Medicine

Genetically Modified Salmonella Destroys Cancer By Provoking An Immune Response, Study Finds (sandiegouniontribune.com) 79

schwit1 quotes a report from San Diego Union-Tribune: A genetically modified bacterium destroys tumors by provoking an immune response, according to a study published Wednesday. Using mice and cultures of human cancer cells, a South Korean-led scientific team demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium engineered to make a foreign protein caused immune cells called macrophages and neutralizes to mobilize against the cancer. The bacterium came from an attenuated strain that has little infectious potential. Such strains have been tested as vaccines. The protein, called FlaB, is made by a gene in the estuarine bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Tumors shrank below detectable levels in 11 out of 20 mice injected with the modified Salmonella, said the study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The engineered Salmonella provoke a sustained immune response, in addition to preventing the spread of a human colon cancer implanted in a mouse. The bacterium also were found to be nontoxic, multiplying almost exclusively inside tumors.
Government

Amateur Scientists Find New Clue In D.B. Cooper Case, Crowdsource Their Investigation (kare11.com) 139

Six months after the FBI closed the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history -- after a 45-year investigation -- there's a new clue. An anonymous reader quotes Seattle news station KING: A band of amateur scientists selected by the Seattle FBI to look for clues in the world's most infamous skyjacking may have found new evidence in the 45-year-old case. They're asking for the public's help because of new, potential leads that could link DB Cooper to the Puget Sound aerospace industry in the early 1970s. The scientific team has been analyzing particles removed from the clip-on tie left behind by Cooper after he hijacked a Northwest Orient passenger jet in November 1971. A powerful electron microscope located more than 100,000 particles on old the JCPenny tie. The team has identified particles like Cerium, Strontium Sulfide, and pure titanium.

Tom Kaye, lead researcher for the group calling itself Citizen Sleuths, says the group is intrigued by the finding, because the elements identified were rarely used in 1971, during the time of Cooper's daring leap with a parachute from a passenger jet. One place they were being used was for Boeing's high-tech Super Sonic Transport plane...

Interestingly, it was even a Boeing aircraft that Cooper hijacked, and witnesses say he wasn't nervous on the flight, and seemed familiar with the terrain below.
Science

New Research Suggests the Appendix Has a Purpose After All (qz.com) 133

The appendix is an organ thought to have gone the way of our wisdom teeth and body hair: At one point we all needed them, now people can get by just fine without them. However, it turns out, at least the appendix has some purpose in the body. From a report: Scientists, though, have never been certain what the appendix used to do -- and if it is still, in fact, useless. On Jan. 9, a team of researchers led by scientists at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine published a review study proposing an answer: the appendix is a secondary immune function that both catalyzes immune cell responses and floods your gut with beneficial bacteria when they've been depleted. And it still plays that role, in a limited fashion, in human body function."We can function okay without it, but the appendix does provide some degree of immunity and beneficial bacteria,â Heather Smith, an anatomist and lead author of the paper said.
Intel

Origin PC's Custom, Professional Overclocking Will Push Your Kaby Lake Chip Past 5GHz (pcworld.com) 94

An anonymous reader writes: Intel's new Kaby Lake desktop processors may not be huge improvements over their Skylake predecessors in terms of raw speed, but they've got it where it counts in one enthusiast-friendly area: overclocking. Now the high-end custom PC builder Origin is putting its (and your) money where its mouth is. Origin's has offered professional overclocking as a $75 option in its systems for a while, and now the builder is touting that Kaby Lake desktops chips will go up to -- and potentially over -- the 5GHz barrier. Hot, hot, hot, hot damn. Intel's chips haven't hit such lofty heights since the Sandy Bridge days and the Core i7-2600K. Since then, Intel's processors usually tap out around the 4.5GHz mark. While the current wording for Origin's professional overclocking doesn't guarantee a set frequency due to the silicon lottery -- promising only that "Origin PC's award winning system integrators will overclock your processor and squeeze out every last megahertz" with every overclock "stringently tested and benchmarked for ensured stability" -- the company must feel darn confident to market that 5GHz number in big, bold numbers in a press release.
Star Wars Prequels

Lucasfilm Creates A 4K Ultra-HD Restoration of the Original 'Star Wars' (4k.com) 304

An anonymous reader quotes 4K.com: When the first ever of the Star Wars films, "A New Hope" turns 40 in 2017, millions of dedicated fans of the immensely popular franchise might get a very unique treat in the form of a limited theater screening in beautifully restored form with theatrical 4K resolution of the first movie released in the series. According to recent comments made by Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, a 4K restoration of Star Wars Episode IV "A New Hope" does indeed exist and now the only real question is whether or not the cleaned up and sharpened version of the movie will be hitting the big screen once again.
White it's release status is unknown, the ultra-high definition footage is said to be spectacular. In the interview, Edwards says "You can't watch it without getting carried away... It just turns you into a child."
Businesses

More Than One-Third of Schoolchildren Are Homeless In Shadow of Silicon Valley (theguardian.com) 504

Alastair Gee writes via The Guardian about Palo Alto's problem with homeless children. Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, yet "slightly more than one-third of students (1,147 children) are defined as homeless here, mostly sharing homes with other families because their parents cannot afford one of their own, and also living in RVs and shelters." From the report: The circumstances of the crisis are striking. Little more than a strip of asphalt separates East Palo Alto from tony Palo Alto, with its startups, venture capitalists, Craftsman homes and Whole Foods. East Palo Alto has traditionally been a center for African American and Latino communities. Its suburban houses are clustered on flat land by the bay, sometimes with no sidewalks and few trees, but residents say the town boasts a strong sense of cohesion. Yet as in the rest of Silicon Valley, the technology economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses -- the Facebook headquarters is within Ravenswood's catchment area -- and contributing to dislocation as well as the tax base. "Now you have Caucasians moving back into the community, you have Facebookers and Googlers and Yahooers," said Pastor Paul Bains, a local leader. "That's what's driven the cost back up. Before, houses were rarely over $500,000. And now, can you find one under $750,000? You probably could, but it's a rare find." Several homeless families whose children attend local schools told the Guardian that they had considered moving to cheaper real estate markets, such as the agricultural Central Valley, but there were no jobs there. One man shares a single room with three children, in a house where three other families each have a room. Another woman lives with her partner and five children in a converted garage. Even teachers are not immune to such difficulties. Ten of the staff who work on early education programs -- one-third of the total -- commute two or more hours each way a day because they cannot find housing they can afford.
Businesses

Apple CEO Tim Cook Calls AirPods 'a Runaway Success' (cnbc.com) 214

It turns out the $159 AirPods Bluetooth earphones are selling well, or so CEO Tim Cook would have us believed. Cook dropped by the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday while on vacation, and talked about the AirPods sales. From a report on CNBC: In comments to CNBC, Cook declined to talk specifically on Apple's outlook, but he said it has been a "great holiday." He added that the company's new wireless earbuds, AirPods, are "a runaway success." When asked if more would come into stock, he said Apple's "making them just as fast as we can." AirPods debuted at September's splashy event, but saw shipping delays through most of the fall and finally hit shelves just days before the crucial Christmas shopping rush. The limited shipments were sold quickly -- ship dates are now six weeks out on Apple's website.

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