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Earth

Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor' -- A Big-Mouthed Sea Creature With No Anus (bbc.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Researchers have discovered the earliest known ancestor of humans -- along with a vast range of other species. They say that fossilized traces of the 540-million-year-old creature are "exquisitely well preserved." The microscopic sea animal is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path that led to fish and -- eventually -- to humans. Details of the discovery from central China appear in Nature journal. The research team says that Saccorhytus is the most primitive example of a category of animals called "deuterostomes" which are common ancestors of a broad range of species, including vertebrates (backboned animals). Saccorhytus was about a millimeter in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed. The researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice. The study was carried out by an international team of researchers, from the UK, China and Germany. Among them was Prof Simon Conway Morris, from the University of Cambridge. The study suggests that its body was symmetrical, which is a characteristic inherited by many of its evolutionary descendants, including humans. Saccorhytus was also covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that it moved by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling. The researchers say that its most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body. They say that it probably ate by engulfing food particles, or even other creatures. Also interesting are the conical structures on its body. These, the scientists suggest, might have allowed the water that it swallowed to escape and so might have been a very early version of gills.
Crime

Police Department Loses Years Worth of Evidence In Ransomware Incident (bleepingcomputer.com) 131

"Police in Cockrell Hill, Texas admitted Wednesday in a press release that they lost years worth of evidence after the department's server was infected with ransomware," reports BleepingComputer. "Lost evidence includes all body camera video, some in-car video, some in-house surveillance video, some photographs, and all Microsoft Office documents." An anonymous reader writes: Most of the data was from solved cases, but some of the evidence was from active investigations. The infection appears to be from the Locky ransomware family, one of the most active today, and took root last December, after an employee opened a document he received via via a spam email. The police department backup system apparently kicked in right after the infection took root, and created copies of the already encrypted data. The department did not pay the $4,000 ransom demand and decided to wipe all its systems.
Medicine

Tiny New Robots Perform Eye Surgery (technologyreview.com) 52

A tiny new Robotic Retinal Dissection Device -- nicknamed "R2D2" -- can crawl into an incision in the eye and lift a membrane no more than a hundredth of a millimeter. "The cables that enable the robot to navigate are each 110 microns across, a little over the diameter of a human hair," reports the MIT Technology Review. The robot is controlled by a joystick (while providing a live camera feed to the ophthalmologist). In September an Oxford professor used it to perform the first operation inside the human eye, and since then five more patients have undergone robot-assisted operations at an Oxford hospital. In one procedure, a gene-therapy virus that stops retinal degeneration "was planted on the retina itself, a procedure only made possible by R2D2's unprecedented precision."
Robotic surgery is already happening. The article points out that Da Vinci, an elephant-sized surgical robot that repairs heart valves, "has operated on more than three million patients around the world." But the Oxford professor believes these tiny eye robots "will open the door to new operations for which the human hand does not have the necessary control and precision."
Power

Are Squirrels A Bigger Threat To Our Critical Infrastructure? (bbc.com) 150

"The real threat to global critical infrastructure is not enemy states or organizations but squirrels, according to one security expert." Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr quotes the BBC. Cris Thomas has been tracking power cuts caused by animals since 2013... His Cyber Squirrel 1 project was set up to counteract what he called the "ludicrousness of cyber-war claims by people at high levels in government and industry", he told the audience at the Shmoocon security conference in Washington. Squirrels topped the list with 879 "attacks", followed by birds with 434 attacks and then snakes at 83 attacks.
Those three animals -- along with rats -- have caused 1,700 different power cuts affecting nearly 5,000,000 people .
EU

Czech Republic Sets Up Counter-Terrorism Unit To Counter Fake News Threat (cnn.com) 119

According to CNN, the Czech Republic is setting up a new counter-terrorism unit to combat the rise of fake news or "foreign disinformation campaigns." The counter-terrorism unit is called "The Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats," and is due to start operating on Sunday, according to an interior ministry statement. CNN reports: The new center is intended to monitor internal security threats, including attacks on soft targets and extremism, as well as "disinformation campaigns related to internal security." Its establishment follows the publication in September of a Czech intelligence service report that identified Russian disinformation and cyber-espionage activities as a potential threat to the Czech Republic, European Union and NATO. The Czech Republic is due to hold a general election next year. According to the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) annual report, Russia in 2015 used "influence and information operations" to try to manipulate public opinion in the Czech Republic in relation to Syria and Ukraine. Russia is involved in conflicts in both these countries. Russia's hybrid warfare operations included "weakening the strength of Czech media" through "covert infiltration of Czech media and the Internet, massive production of Russian propaganda and disinformation controlled by the state," the report said. Other Russian operations included founding puppet organizations, the "covert and open support of populist or extremist subjects," and "disrupting the coherence and readiness of NATO and the EU," the report claimed. "The above-mentioned activities pose a threat to the Czech Republic, EU and NATO not only in relation to the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts. "The infrastructure created for achieving these goals will not disappear with the end of the two conflicts. It can be used to destabilize or manipulate Czech society or political environment at any time, if Russia wishes to do so." According to the Czech interior ministry, its new unit won't be interrogating anyone, censoring online content or bringing legal proceedings, nor will it "have a button for 'switching off the internet.'" But it will monitor threats, inform the public about "serious cases of disinformation" and promote internal security expertise.
Power

Why Tesla's New Solar Roof Tiles and Home Battery Are Such a Big Deal (techcrunch.com) 280

On October 28th, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled the residential "solar roof," consisting of glass roof tiles with integrated solar panels. Not only are they more durable than traditional roof panels, but they offer efficiency that is 98 percent as good as traditional, photovoltaic panels. The company also announced the Powerwall 2, a home battery that can store 14 kWh of energy, with a 5 kW continuous power draw, and 7 kW peak. It's designed to store the energy from the solar roof during day to power your home at night. Darrell Etherington via TechCrunch explains why these solar roof tiles are such a big deal: It's easy to dismiss the aesthetic import of how Tesla's tiles look, but it's actually important, and a real consideration for homeowners looking to build new homes or revamp their existing ones. The appearance of the tiles, which come in four distinct flavors (Textured Glass, Slate Glass, Tuscan Glass and Smooth Glass) is going to be a core consideration for prospective buyers, especially those at the top end of the addressable market with the disposable income available to do everything they can to ensure their home looks as good as it possibly can. As with other kinds of technologies that are looking to make the leap from outlier oddity to mainstream mainstay, solar has a hurdle to leap in terms of customer perception. Existing solar designs, and even so-called attempts to make them more consistent with traditional offerings like the above-mentioned Dow Chemical project, leave a lot to be desired in terms of creating something that can be broadly described as good-looking. Tesla has been referred to as the Apple of the automotive world by more than a few analysts and members of the media, and if there's one thing Apple does well, it's capitalize on the so-called -- halo effect. This is the phenomenon whereby customers of one of its lines of business are likely to become customers of some of the others; iPhone buyers tend to often go on to own a Mac, for instance. For Tesla, this represents an opportunity to jump-start its home solar business (which it'll take on in earnest provided its planned acquisition of SolarCity goes through) through the knock-on effects of its brisk Tesla EV sales, including the tremendous pre-order interest for the Model 3. Tesla's solar tiles claim to be able to power a standard home, and provide spare power via the new Powerwall 2 battery in case of inclement weather or other outages. Musk says that the overall cost will still be less than installing a regular old roof and paying the electric company for power from conventional sources. But Musk's claims about the new benefits of the new solutions don't end there. Tesla's tiles will actually be more resilient than traditional roofing materials, including terra-cotta, clay and slate tiles. Solar roofing, Powerwall and Tesla cars taken together represent a new kind of ecosystem in consumer tech, one that carries a promise of self-sufficiency in addition to ecological benefits. Tesla has already tipped its hand with respect to how it intends to make vehicle ownership a revenue generator for its drivers, rather than a cost center.
Crime

Czechs Arrest Russian Hacker Wanted By FBI (go.com) 55

Bookworm09 quotes a report from New York Times (paywalled, alternate source): A man identified as a Russian hacker suspected of pursuing targets in the United States has been arrested in the Czech Republic, the police announced Tuesday evening. The suspect was captured in a raid at a hotel in central Prague on Oct. 5, about 12 hours after the authorities heard that he was in the country, where he drove around in a luxury car with his girlfriend, according to the police. The man did not resist arrest, but he had medical problems and was briefly hospitalized, the police said in a statement. The FBI said in a statement that the man was "suspected of conducting criminal activities targeting U.S. interests. As cybercrime can originate anywhere in the world, international cooperation is crucial to successfully defeat cyber adversaries." ABC News reports: "Prague's Municipal Court will now have to decide on his extradition to the United States, with Justice Minister Robert Pelikan having the final say. Russian officials, however, are demanding that the suspect be handed over to them. Spokeswoman Marketa Puci said the court ruled on Oct. 12 that the man will remain in detention until the extradition hearing. No date has yet been set. U.S. authorities have two months to deliver to their Czech counterparts all of the documents necessary for the Czech authorities to decide on the extradition request."
Intel

Intel Breaks Qualcomm's Hold On Apple's Baseband Chips (wsj.com) 84

Long-time Slashdot reader randomErr writes: In a big blow to Qualcomm, Apple plans to incorporate Intel baseband chips into at least some models of the new iPhone 7. The selection of Intel chip means that in newer iPhones Apple will no longer support CDMA technology popularized by Qualcomm. The Wall Street Journal states that many industry analysts believe Intel could be supplying as many as half of of baseband chips for Apple's handsets.
This was the last key iPhone component that didn't have two sources, and the Journal estimates that Intel's revenues could now increase by up to $700 million before the end of 2016.
Google

Google Working On New 'Fuchsia' OS (digitaltrends.com) 146

An anonymous reader writes: Google is working on a new operating system dubbed Fuchsia OS for smartphones, computers, and various other devices. The new operating system was spotted in the Git repository, where the description reads: "Pick + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System). Hacker News reports that Travis Geiselbrech, who worked on NewOS, BeOS, Danger, Palm's webOS and iOS, and Brian Swetland, who also worked on BeOS and Android will be involved in this project. Magenta and LK kernel will be powering the operating system. "LK is a kernel designed for small systems typically used in imbedded applications," reads the repository. "On the other hand, Magenta targets modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of RAM with arbitrary peripherals doing open-ended computation." It's too early to tell exactly what this OS is meant for. Whether it's for an Android and Chrome OS merger or something completely new, it's exciting nonetheless.
Earth

ULA Interns Launch Record-Breaking 50-Foot Rocket (space.com) 79

schwit1 writes: A team of United Launch Alliance (ULA) interns, working in their spare time, have successfully launched the largest model rocket every built. Space.com reports: "On Sunday (July 24), ULA launched the 50-foot-tall (15.24 meters) Future Heavy rocket out of Fort Carson Army Post, breaking the record for 'the largest sport rocket launched anywhere in the world,' according to a statement from ULA. The Future Heavy is also notable because it was built entirely by company interns and their mentors. 'We like [our interns] to have a very realistic experience,' ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno told Space.com at the Space Symposium meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last April." Calling it a "model rocket" really isn't fair. The thing is big, and really ranks up there with many of the suborbital rockets NASA used to routinely fly out of Wallops Island. [The fact that] ULA has provided support for this effort again suggests that the leadership of Bruno is reshaping the company into a much more innovative and competitive company.
Security

Can Iris-Scanning ID Systems Tell the Difference Between a Live and Dead Eye? (ieee.org) 93

the_newsbeagle writes: Iris scanning is increasingly being used for biometric identification because it's fast, accurate, and relies on a body part that's protected and doesn't change over time. You may have seen such systems at a border crossing recently or at a high-security facility, and the Indian government is currently collecting iris scans from all its 1.2 billion citizens to enroll them in a national ID system. But such scanners can sometimes be spoofed by a high-quality paper printout or an image stuck on a contact lens.

Now, new research has shown that post-mortem eyes can be used for biometric identification for hours or days after death, despite the decay that occurs. This means an eye could theoretically be plucked from someone's head and presented to an iris scanner. The same researcher who conducted that post-mortem study is also looking for solutions, and is working on iris scanners that can detect the "liveness" of an eye. His best method so far relies on the unique way each person's pupil responds to a flash of light, although he notes some problems with this approach.

Government

Is A Rational Nation Ruled By Science A Terrible Idea? (newscientist.com) 609

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from Jeffrey Guhin, an assistant professor of sociology at UCLA: Imagine a future society in which everything is perfectly logical. What could go wrong...? Last week, US astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson offered up the perfect example of scientism when he proposed the country of Rationalia, in which "all policy shall be based on the weight of evidence". Tyson is a very smart man, but this is not a smart idea. It is even, we might say, unreasonable and without sufficient evidence... employing logic to consider the concept reveals that there could be no such thing...

First, experts usually don't know nearly as much as they think they do. They often get it wrong, thanks to their inherently irrational brains that -- through overconfidence, bubbles of like-minded thinkers, or just wanting to believe their vision of the world can be true -- mislead us and misinterpret information... And second, science has no business telling people how to live. It's striking how easily we forget the evil that following "science" can do. So many times throughout history, humans have thought they were behaving in logical and rational ways, only to realize that such acts have yielded morally heinous policies that were only enacted because reasonable people were swayed by "evidence".

Transportation

Austin Is Conducting Sting Operations Against Ride-Sharing Drivers (examiner.com) 258

Since the Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps stopped service in Austin, drunk driving has increased, riders are hunting for alternatives, and the police are conducting undercover sting operations against unauthorized ride-sharing drivers. With Chicago also considering new restrictions on ride-sharing apps, Slashdot reader MarkWhittington shares this report from Austin: With thousands of drivers and tens of thousands of riders who once depended on ride-sharing services in a lurch, a group called Arcade City has tried to fill the void with a person-to-person site to link up drivers and riders who then negotiate a fare. Of course, according to a story on KVUE, the Austin city government, and the police are on the case. The Austin Police Department has diverted detectives and resources to conduct sting operations on ride-sharing drivers who attempt to operate without official sanction. Undercover operatives will arrange for a ride with an Arcade City driver and then bust them, impounding their vehicle and imposing a fine.
"The first Friday and Saturday after Uber was gone, we were joking that it was like the zombie apocalypse of drunk people," one former ride-sharing driver told Vocative.com. Earlier this month the site compared this year's drunk driving arrests to last years -- and discovered that in the three weeks since Uber and Lyft left Austin, 7.5% more people have been arrested for drunk driving.

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