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Submission + - How Airbnb Stopped Playing Nice (backchannel.com)

mirandakatz writes: For years, Airbnb was the friendly foil to Uber, aiming to work with cities rather than against them. But as it grew and regulatory challenges mounted, the startup had to grow fangs. In an excerpt from his latest book, Brad Stone details how Airbnb became every bit as controversial as Uber, writing that "Airbnb had said it wanted to talk candidly with cities, to play by the rules, to be a partner. But in the end, there emerged an unavoidable fact: Chesky was every bit the warrior Travis Kalanick was. He believed so much in the promise of his company that he was going to fight for every inch of territory."

Submission + - Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy For the FBI To Spy On Journalists (theintercept.com)

schwit1 writes: Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from two internal officials — far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures.

The classified rules dating from 2013, govern the FBI’s use of national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. They have previously been released only in heavily redacted form.

Submission + - 16 Years Of GPS Space Weather Data Made Publicly Available

An anonymous reader writes: Over 16 years of GPS space weather data has been released to the public for the first time, in a bid to help boost understanding around radiation threats to Earth’s satellites, communications networks, and aircraft. The ‘unprecedented’ collection of data, released by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, comes from space weather sensors onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, which measure charged particles in Earth’s magnetic field. The detailed measurements are expected to provide an invaluable resource for space weather research and for understanding how best to protect our critical infrastructure. Prior to the public release, GPS data has long remained a U.S. military asset, with a “general hesitancy to broadcast even fairly innocuous things out to the broad community.”

Submission + - Electronic lenses - better than progressive lenses or bifocals? 3

mmell writes: University of Utah scientists have created a prototype electronic lens which uses several technologies to customize the lens optics focusing on whatever the wearer is looking at.

Not unlike the "oil lenses" in Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels, the electronic lens (a transparent LCD) can have its index of refractivity modified by application of a small electric current. While I can conceive many uses for this technology (in spacecraft instruments, webcams/handicams, handheld binoculars and telescopes for example), these were developed as a replacement for the progressive lenses — a.k.a., bifocals — which are worn by many with less than perfect eyesight. Many eyeglass wearers don't tolerate bifocals well and I wonder if the adaptive optics in this prototype could relieve them of the need to carry multiple pairs of glasses?

Whether they prove cost effective for the role of eyeglasses or not (and I can see no reason why they shouldn't), the applications for this technology seem quite diverse and potentially even revolutionary. I wonder how long it will be before these are more than just a prototype?

Submission + - Oxygen From Earth's Atmosphere May Be Traveling To the Moon's Surface (theverge.com)

An anonymous reader writes: New research shows that oxygen from Earth could be journeying all the way out to the Moon, where it then gets lodged inside the lunar soil. It’s a process that’s likely been happening for 2.4 billion years, ever since oxygen formed around our planet, meaning the Moon’s soil may contain trapped particles from Earth’s ancient atmosphere. This oxygen exchange, detailed in a study published today in Nature Astronomy, supposedly occurs for just a few days during the Moon’s 27-day orbit. Most of the time, the Moon is constantly being blasted with solar wind — fast streams of charged particles emanating from the Sun. But for five days of every lunar orbit, the Moon passes into Earth’s magnetotail, the portion of the planet’s magnetic field that stretches outward away from the Sun. This tail shields the Moon from the solar wind, and allows charged oxygen ions from Earth to travel to the lunar surface, according to the study. That means the Moon — a dead rock incapable of supporting life — is being showered with the byproducts of life here on Earth. In fact, the source of most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is biological, created by plants during photosynthesis. It’s a process that experts have suspected for a while but haven’t been able to confirm until today. Researchers have also suggested that other atmospheric components, such as nitrogen and noble gases, are getting to the Moon this way based on lunar soil samples.

Submission + - Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor' (bbc.com)

An anonymous reader writes: 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.

Submission + - Intelligence agency opens $325k automated fingerprint gathering competition (networkworld.com)

coondoggie writes: The idea behind the competition, called the “Nail to Nail (N2N) Fingerprint Challenge” – which offers $325,000 worth of prizes – is to develop a system that allows for more distinguishing data to be collected from fingerprint biometrics but also eliminates the time and cost associated with using human operators, IARPA said. N2N fingerprints capture the entire fingerprint from the edge of one finger nail bed to the other.

Submission + - The New Google Voice Is Another Slap in the Face of Google's Users, & Their (vortex.com)

Lauren Weinstein writes: So as desktop GV continued along its stable path, many observers began to wonder if Google was preparing to pull its plug. I’ve had those concerns too, though somewhat mitigated by the fact that Google has been integrating aspects of GV into some of their other newer products, which suggested that GV still had significant life ahead.

This was confirmed recently when word started to circulate of a new version (“refresh” is another term used for this) of GV that was soon to roll out to users. Google eventually confirmed this. Indeed, it’s rolling out right now.

And for desktop users at least, it’s a nightmare. A nightmare that in fact I was expecting. I had hoped I’d be wrong. Unfortunately, I was correct.

Submission + - 85% of the world's governments are corrupt (newatlas.com)

schwit1 writes: According to one think tank that studies corruption in government, 85% of the world lives under governments that are essentially corrupt.

“Corruption” is defined by Transparency International (TI) as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Each year since 1995, TI has published a Corruption Perceptions Index that scores the world’s nations out of 100 for their public sector honesty and the just-released 2016 report paints the same bleak picture we’ve been seeing now for two decades except it’s getting worse.

According to the data, despite the illusion of elected government in half the world’s countries, democracy is losing. Only two countries scored 90 out of 100 this year, and just 54 of the 176 countries (30%) assessed in the report scored better than 50. Fifty percent might have constituted a pass in a High School arithmetic test, but for an elected government to be so inept at carrying out the will of the electorate, it is a clear betrayal of the people. The average country score this year is a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country’s public sector is the norm.

Even more damning is that more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.

Not surprisingly, the countries at the bottom of the list are almost all Middle Eastern nations, all of whom are the source of most of the world’s terrorism and Islamic madness. The few others are those trying to become communist paradises, Venezuela and North Korea.

Submission + - Fifty years ago today: the Apollo 1 launchpad fire (nasaspaceflight.com)

schwit1 writes:

Fifty years ago Friday, the first – but sadly not the last – fatal spaceflight accident struck NASA when a fire claimed the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White during a training exercise at Launch Complex 34. The accident, a major setback for the struggling Apollo program, ushered in the first understanding of the “bad day” effects of schedule pressure for spaceflight and brought with it words and reminders that still echo today.

The article provides a very detailed and accurate look at the history and causes of the accident, as well as its consequences, which even today influence American space engineering.

Submission + - Police and FAA Are Making It Impossible To Use Drones To Document Protests (vocativ.com)

schwit1 writes: Last November, an aerial drone flown by a member of the resistance camp opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline captured dramatic footage of riot police blasting crowds with water cannons as temperatures dipped below freezing, sending 17 of the camp’s occupants to the hospital with injuries and hypothermia.

The video quickly spread on social media, spurring global news coverage of the fight against the oil pipeline, which saw activists clash with police and security forces in tense standoffs last year. A few weeks later, the Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of the pipeline, which had encroached on Native American sacred lands and threatened water supplies near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation.

It was another example of how drones have become a crucial technology, allowing activists and journalists to document protests and hold police accountable for abuses. But as a new era of civil resistance dawns under the Trump administration, at the Standing Rock site and in anti-Trump demonstrations across the country, drone experts say police and government have made it unnecessarily difficult — sometimes impossible — for civilians to deploy drones at large protests.

Just a few days after the video from Standing Rock went viral, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave permission to local authorities to effectively ban all civilian drone flights in 4 mile radius above the Oceti Sakowin resistance camp and drill site. The same thing happened two years earlier, during the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri: Police were granted what is called a Temporary Flight Restriction, or TFR, which legally restricts airspace above a designated area to law enforcement and emergency aircraft. In Ferguson, the explicit goal was to stop news helicopters and drones from observing the Black Lives Matter protests, where cops were firing tear gas and menacing protesters with military vehicles and weapons.

Submission + - Silicon Valley's AI Ethics Boards Shouldn't Be Secret (backchannel.com)

mirandakatz writes: Earlier this month, the MIT Media Lab joined with the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society to anchor a $27 million Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence initiative. It's one of a number of AI ethics initiatives we've seen emerge from Silicon Valley in recent years—but those efforts that have originated from tech companies themselves have long been too tight-lipped. At Backchannel, Jeremy Hsu writes that "the responsibility for humanity’s future need not rest entirely in the hands of tech companies. But Silicon Valley will have to resist its more shadowy corporate tendencies and spend more time sharing ideas."

Submission + - At-home brain-zapping treatment for depression may soon be mainstream (ieee.org)

the_newsbeagle writes: This isn't old-school brain zapping: It's not electroshock therapy, in which doctors flood a depressed patient's brain with some 900 milliamps of current to cause a seizure and something like a mood reset. This is tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), which would let psychiatrists send their depressed patients home with a brain-zapping headband that sends perhaps 2 milliamps of current through specific portions of their brains. A doctor's prescription might call for the patient to do a 20-minute stimulation session daily for a few weeks, then less frequent maintenance sessions.

While tDCS is being investigated as a treatment for all sorts of neuropsychiatric disorders, many researchers and doctors think depression may be the killer app. A South Korean company called Ybrain thinks its consumer-friendly headband for depression will be the product that makes this treatment mainstream — first in Korea, then in Europe, then in the United States and around the world.

Submission + - Were police snooping on protesters' cellphones? Most departments won't say (muckrock.com)

v3rgEz writes: Attend any of the protests over inauguration weekend? Wondering if your phone was surveilled doing so? Unfortunately, with law enforcement’s continued silence about cell site simulators use, it’s almost impossible to know. MuckRock has surveyed almost 200 local and state police departments to get details on policies regarding the use of StingRays, which can track calls, user location, and even read text messages — all without a warrant. Here's what various police departments did — and didn't — release.

Submission + - Malvertising Campaign Infects Your Router Instead of Your Browser (bleepingcomputer.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Malicious ads are serving exploit code to infect routers, instead of browsers, in order to insert ads in every site users are visiting. Unlike previous malvertising campaigns that targeted users of old Flash or Internet Explorer versions, this campaign focused on Chrome users, on both desktop and mobile devices.

The malicious ads included in this malvertising campaign contain exploit code for 166 router models, which allow attackers to take over the device and insert ads on websites that didn't feature ads, or replace original ads with the attackers' own. Researchers haven't yet managed to determine an exact list of affected router models, but some of the brands targeted by the attackers include Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, Comtrend, Pirelli, and Zyxel.

Because the attack is carried out via the user's browser, using strong router passwords or disabling the administration interface is not enough. The only way users can stay safe is if they update their router's firmware to the most recent versions, which most likely includes protection against the vulnerabilities used by this campaign.

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