Oculus Rift Headsets Are Offline Following a Software Error ( 111

Polygon reports that Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets around the world are experiencing an outage. The outage appears to be a result of an expired security certificate. "That certificate has expired," said the Oculus support team on its forums, "and we're looking at a few different ways to resolve the issue. We'll update you with the latest info as available. We recommend you wait until we provide an official fix. Thanks for your patience." Polygon reports: One place where users experiencing the issue are gathering is on the Oculus forums. Last night user apexmaster booted up his computer, tried to open the Oculus app and was greeted by an error indicating that the software could not reach the "Oculus Runtime Service." That same error is cropping up on computers all around the world, including several devices here at Polygon. Once it has appeared, there's no way to restart the Oculus app, which renders the Rift headset unusable.

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones ( 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."

Time To Bring Back the Software User Conference ( 43

Holger Mueller, writing for ZDNet (condensed for space): Every tech company has a user conference these days. And is it just me, or are they all starting to feel the exact same? Same announcements, same message, same speakers, same venue. Rinse, repeat. On top of this sameness, irrelevant gimmicks and lack of substance threaten to drag the tech user conference into obsolescence. But all is not lost. Here are a few areas in which tech conferences are going astray, and a few ideas about how to fix them.

It's about the product. Users attend conferences to learn more about a vendor's software. So product needs to get a lot of air time. Yes, services matter too-but it's the product that people have taken time out of their busy schedules to learn about.
Have a motivational speaker who matters.
Demo software. Many attendees are expert users. Vendors need to demonstrate they, too, are experts with their own product. The best way to do this is to demo the product.
Subject expertise beats celebrity. Yes, user conferences are about inspiration, but a celebrity, soap opera star, or a talk show host is not something an enterprise software user can relate to their work and is definitely not why they spend 3-4 days and a few thousand dollars/euros to attend a conference.
Limit the philanthropy. It's great for vendors to give back to a purpose outside of the software. But it should not be 50 percent of a keynote.
Users want to network. Vendors should give users a chance to network. Not just informally, but in a planned way.
Party hard but responsibly.


Microsoft Confirms Windows 10 'S Mode' ( 90

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft head honcho Joe Belfiore confirmed today that Windows 10 S won't be a separate Windows version anymore and that Microsoft will ship an "S Mode" with Windows 10 starting 2019. "Next year 10S will be a "mode" of existing versions, not a distinct version," Belfiore said today on Twitter.

Google Lens Is Coming To All Android Phones Running Google Photos ( 57

Google announced that Google Lens, a machine learning-powered image analyzer, will be rolling out to more Android devices and make an appearance on iOS. "This means users will be able to scan things through the app to receive information, like a dog's breed or a flower type," reports The Verge. Some phones will also be able to access Lens through the Google Assistant too, including flagships from Samsung, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Sony, and HMD / Nokia. "Google says Lens is rolling out in batches, so you might not get the update right away," reports The Verge.

Leaked Apple Email Hints at the Possible End of iTunes: Report ( 145

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple could kill off iTunes in the near future, a new report suggests. It cites an email that Apple reportedly wrote to people in the music industry recently, announcing the "end of iTunes LPs." The iTunes LP format was first introduced in 2009 and let publishers add interactive artwork, along with assorted iTunes Extras, with their content. The LP format never achieved great popularity. However, the fact that Apple plans to ditch iTunes LPs in 2018 potentially hints at the possibility that Apple may stop selling iTunes music downloads in the near future. The Apple email announcing the change was reportedly sent two weeks ago from an address at "The iTunes Store" and signed by "The Apple Music Team." But its existence has only been highlighted now through a report by the U.K. newspaper The Metro. "Apple will no longer accept new submissions of iTunes LPs after March 2018," the letter notes. "Existing LPs will be deprecated from the store during the remainder of 2018. Customers who have previously purchased an album containing an iTunes LP will still be able to download the additional content using iTunes Match." The news about the possible winding down of iTunes would come as no surprise to many users. Not only has iTunes been outdated for years in terms of its interface and functionality, but Apple clearly aims to move to a streaming model of music selling. Further reading: 'Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously'; Apple Says It Doesn't Know Why iTunes Users Are Losing Their Music Files; iTunes Turns 13 Today -- Continues To Be 'Awful'.

BlackBerry Files Patent Infringement Lawsuit Against Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram ( 87

BlackBerry on Tuesday filed patent infringement lawsuit against Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram in Los Angeles Federal court. In a statement, BlackBerry said: We have a lot of respect for Facebook and the value they've placed on messaging capabilities, some of which were invented by BlackBerry. As a cybersecurity and embedded software leader, BlackBerry's view is that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp could make great partners in our drive toward a securely connected future, and we continue to hold this door open to them. However, we have a strong claim that Facebook has infringed on our intellectual property, and after several years of dialogue, we also have an obligation to our shareholders to pursue appropriate legal remedies.

'Repeatable Sanitization' is a Feature of PCs Now ( 90

HP has announced a trio of slightly-odd products intended for use in hospitals. From a report: The new HP EliteOne 800 G4 23.8 Healthcare Edition All-in-One PC and HP EliteBook 840 G5 Healthcare Edition Notebook are computers intended for use in the healthcare industry. The EliteBook will ship with software called "Easy Clean" that disables the keyboard, touchscreen and keypad "to facilitate cleaning with germicidal wipes while the device is still on." HP said it's scoured the market and thinks it is the only vendor on the planet with a laptop capable of handling "up to 10,000 wipes with germicidal towelettes over a 3-year period." The All-in-One boasts no antibacterial features, but does have both RFID and biometric authentication, handy features in an environment where PCs can't be left unlocked to preserve privacy. That requirement means PCs are logged on to many more times a day than the average machine, making the presence of Windows Hello facial recognition more than a gimmick. Oddly, both come with the disclaimer that they're "not intended for use in diagnosis, cure, treatment or prevention of disease or other medical conditions."

Chrome On Windows Ditches Microsoft's Compiler, Now Uses Clang ( 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google's Chrome browser is now built using the Clang compiler on Windows. Previously built using the Microsoft C++ compiler, Google is now using the same compiler for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android, and the switch makes Chrome arguably the first major software project to use Clang on Windows. Chrome on macOS and Linux has long been built using the Clang compiler and the LLVM toolchain. The open-source compiler is the compiler of choice on macOS, making it the natural option there, and it's also a first-class choice for Linux; though the venerable GCC is still the primary compiler choice on Linux, by using Clang instead, Google ensured that it has only one set of compiler quirks and oddities to work with rather than two. But Chrome on Windows has instead used Microsoft's Visual C++ compiler. The Visual C++ compiler is the best-supported, most widely used compiler on Windows and, critically, is the compiler with the best support for Windows' wide range of debugging and diagnostic tools. The Visual Studio debugger is widely loved by the C++ community, and other tools, such as the WinDbg debugger (often used for analyzing crash dumps), are core parts of the Windows developer experience.

MoviePass CEO Proudly Says App Tracks Your Location Before, After Movies ( 166

MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe told an audience at a Hollywood event last Friday that the app tracks moviegoers' locations before and after each show they watch. "We get an enormous amount of information," Lowe said. "We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards." His talk at the Entertainment Finance Forum was entitled "Data is the New Oil: How will MoviePass Monetize It?" TechCrunch reports: It's no secret that MoviePass is planning on making hay out of the data collected through its service. But what I imagined, and what I think most people imagined, was that it would be interesting next-generation data about ticket sales, movie browsing, A/B testing on promotions in the app and so on. I didn't imagine that the app would be tracking your location before you even left your home, and then follow you while you drive back or head out for a drink afterwards. Did you? It sure isn't in the company's privacy policy, which in relation to location tracking discloses only a "single request" when selecting a theater, which will "only be used as a means to develop, improve, and personalize the service." Which part of development requires them to track you before and after you see the movie? A MoviePass representative said in a statement to TechCrunch: "We are exploring utilizing location-based marketing as a way to help enhance the overall experience by creating more opportunities for our subscribers to enjoy all the various elements of a good movie night. We will not be selling the data that we gather. Rather, we will use it to better inform how to market potential customer benefits including discounts on transportation, coupons for nearby restaurants, and other similar opportunities."

Spotify Is Cracking Down On Users Pirating Premium-Like Service ( 83

People who access Spotify using hacked apps that remove some of the restrictions placed on free accounts are receiving warning emails from the company. Noting that "abnormal activity" has been observed from the user's software, Spotify warns that future breaches could result in suspension or even termination of a user's account. TorrentFreak reports: "We detected abnormal activity on the app you are using so we have disabled it. Don't worry -- your Spotify account is safe," the email from Spotify reads. "To access your Spotify account, simply uninstall any unauthorized or modified version of Spotify and download and install the Spotify app from the official Google Play Store. If you need more help, please see our support article on Reinstalling Spotify." While the email signs off with a note thanking the recipient for being a Spotify user, there is also a warning. "If we detect repeated use of unauthorized apps in violation of our terms, we reserve all rights, including suspending or terminating your account," Spotify writes.

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them ( 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.


Windows Phone 8.1 Users Are Having Trouble Downloading Apps From the Store ( 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: While Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows Phone 8.1 more than six months ago, there are some users that still utilize the platform as their daily driver. Although the company's overall mobile initiative isn't faring too well either, most users on older platforms are still there because they prefer it over the competition or weren't offered an upgrade path to Windows 10 Mobile. However, it now appears that Windows Phone 8.1 users are facing some unforeseen problems with the Store - and no, it isn't regarding the dearth of apps. According to reports, people on the platform have been unable to download apps from the Store since yesterday. Hundreds of people over in Windows phone Facebook groups, Reddit, and Microsoft support forums are complaining that they are being hit with error code 80070020 when attempting to download apps from the Store using their Windows Phone 8.1 devices. We have confirmed the presence of the issue on our devices too.

New LTE Attacks Can Snoop On Messages, Track Locations, and Spoof Emergency Alerts ( 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A slew of newly discovered vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on 4G LTE network users by eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, knocking devices offline, and even spoofing emergency alerts. Ten attacks detailed in a new paper by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa expose weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securely attaching a device to the network and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages. Those flaws can allow authentication relay attacks that can allow an adversary to connect to a 4G LTE network by impersonating an existing user -- such as a phone number. Although authentication relay attacks aren't new, this latest research shows that they can be used to intercept message, track a user's location, and stop a phone from connecting to the network. By using common software-defined radio devices and open source 4G LTE protocol software, anyone can build the tool to carry out attacks for as little as $1,300 to $3,900, making the cost low enough for most adversaries. The researchers aren't releasing the proof-of-concept code until the flaws are fixed, however.

Ask Slashdot: Best To-Do/Task List Software? 278

Albanach writes: Despite searching, I have not identified a good solution for managing to-do lists, a problem that can't be unique or unusual. For a variety of reasons, I need something I host myself, which allows me to organize tasks, give them due dates and/or priorities and to easily reorganize. I'd prefer a web interface so that I can access my list from home/work/mobile. My searches generally turned up hosted solutions that don't work for privacy reasons, or very old software that has shown no sign of updates in years. What are other Slashdotters using to manage their real-world task list?

Bad iPhone Notches Are Happening To Good Android Phones ( 260

The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Android smartphone manufacturers are copying the iPhone's design (specifically, the iPhone X's notch) with more speed and cynicism than ever before: I've been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I've never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year's show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next. No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple's notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven't even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display. Asus is one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world, and yet its copycat notch is probably the most galling of them all. The Zenfone 5 looks and feels like a promising phone, featuring loud speakers, the latest Sony imaging sensor with larger-than-average pixels, and a price somewhere south of $499. I should be celebrating it right now, but instead I'm turning away in disgust as Asus leans into its copying by calling Apple a "Fruit Company" repeatedly. If you're going to copy the iPhone, at least have the decency to avoid trying to mock it.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. I'm absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they're purely cosmetic. Apple's notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus et al have a sizeable "chin" at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look -- not function, look -- like an iPhone X.


Google's Slack Competitor 'Hangouts Chat' Comes Out of Beta ( 52

Frederic Lardinois reports via TechCrunch: Hangouts Chat, Google's take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don't see it yet, don't despair). For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google's take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What's maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits,, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There's even a Giphy bot. Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.


AI Cheats at Old Atari Games By Finding Unknown Bugs in the Code ( 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: AI research and video games are a match made in heaven. Researchers get a ready-made virtual environment with predefined goals they can control completely, and the AI agent gets to romp around without doing any damage. Sometimes, though, they do break things. Case in point is a paper published this week by a trio of machine learning researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany. They were exploring a particular method of teaching AI agents to navigate video games (in this case, desktop ports of old Atari titles from the 1980s) when they discovered something odd. The software they were testing discovered a bug in the port of the retro video game Q*bert that allowed it to rack up near infinite points. As the trio describe in the paper, published on pre-print server arXiv, the agent was learning how to play Q*bert when it discovered an "interesting solution." Normally, in Q*bert, players jump from cube to cube, with this action changing the platforms' colors. Change all the colors (and dispatch some enemies), and you're rewarded with points and sent to the next level. The AI found a better way, though: "First, it completes the first level and then starts to jump from platform to platform in what seems to be a random manner. For a reason unknown to us, the game does not advance to the second round but the platforms start to blink and the agent quickly gains a huge amount of points (close to 1 million for our episode time limit)."

IBM's Watson Is Going To Space ( 59

Yesterday, IBM announced it would be providing the AI brain for a robot being built by Airbus to accompany astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). "The robot, which looks like a flying volleyball with a low-resolution face, is being deployed with Germany astronaut Alexander Gerst in June for a six month mission," reports The Next Web. "It's called CIMON, an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, and it's headed to space to do science stuff." From the report: It'll help crew members conduct medical experiments, study crystals, and play with a Rubix cube. Best of all, just like "Wilson," the other volleyball with a face and Tom Hanks' costar in the movie Castaway, CIMON can be the astronauts' friend. According to an IBM blog post: "CIMON's digital face, voice and use of artificial intelligence make it a 'colleague' to the crew members. This collegial 'working relationship' facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant."

ESRB Introducing 'In-Game Purchases' Label in Response To Loot Box Controversy ( 97

The Entertainment Software Rating Board will begin labeling video games that contain in-game purchases, a response to lawmakers who have noticed the outcry over so-called loot crate systems and have signaled a willingness to legislate them. From a report: The labeling will "be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency," the ESRB said in a news release this morning, "including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads)." The label will appear separate from the familiar ESRB rating label (T-for-Teen, M-for-Mature, etc.) and not inside it. Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.

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