Earth

Turning the Optical Fiber Network Into a Giant Earthquake Sensor (ieee.org) 2

Tekla Perry writes: Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated that they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. "People didn't believe this would work," said one of the researchers. "They always assumed that an uncoupled optical fiber would generate too much signal noise to be useful." They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but rather convincing telcos to allow the technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines. Meanwhile, the same data is being used for an art project that visualizes the activity of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and fountains on the surface above the cables.
Businesses

New Law Bans California Employers From Asking Applicants Their Prior Salary (sfgate.com) 193

An anonymous reader shares a report: California employers can no longer ask job applicants about their prior salary and -- if applicants ask -- must give them a pay range for the job they are seeking, under a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1. AB168, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, applies to all public- and private-sector California employers of any size. The goal is to narrow the gender wage gap. If a woman is paid less than a man doing the same job and a new employer bases her pay on her prior salary, gender discrimination can be perpetuated, the bill's backers say. Last year, the state passed a weaker law that said prior compensation, by itself, cannot justify any disparity in compensation. The new bill goes further by prohibiting employers, "orally or in writing, personally or through an agent," from asking about an applicant's previous pay. However, if the applicant "voluntarily and without prompting" provides this information, the employer may use it "in determining the salary for that applicant."
Ubuntu

Ubuntu 17.10 Artful Aardvark Released 94

Canonical has made available the download links for Ubuntu 17.10 "Artful Aardvark". It comes with a range of new features, changes, and improvements including GNOME as the default desktop, Wayland display server by default, Optional X.org server session, Mesa 17.2 or Mesa 17.3, Linux kernel 4.13 or kernel 4.14, new Subiquity server installer, improved hardware support, new Ubuntu Server installer, switch to libinput, an always visible dock using Dash to Dock GNOME Shell extension, and Bluetooth improvements with a new BlueZ among others.
Businesses

Dodging Russian Spies, Customers Are Ripping Out Kaspersky (thedailybeast.com) 252

From a report: Multiple U.S. security consultants and other industry sources tell The Daily Beast customers are dropping their use of Kaspersky software all together, particularly in the financial sector, likely concerned that Russian spies can rummage through their files. Some security companies are being told to only provide U.S. products. And former Kaspersky employees describe the firm as reeling, with department closures and anticipation that researchers will jump ship soon. "We are under great pressure to only use American products no matter the technical or performance consequences," said a source in a cybersecurity firm which uses Kaspersky's anti-virus engine in its own services. The Daily Beast granted anonymity to some of the industry sources to discuss internal deliberations, as well as the former Kaspersky employees to talk candidly about recent events.
Robotics

Bankers Publicly Embracing Robots Are Privately Fearing Job Cuts (bloomberg.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Within the upper echelons of many financial firms, there's a lot of soul searching as executives prepare to roll out a new generation of technology. Publicly, they're upbeat, predicting machines will perform almost all repetitive tasks, freeing humans to focus on more valuable pursuits. Privately, many confide to peers, consultants and sometimes journalists that they're worried about what will happen to their staffs -- and what to tell them. There's also uncertainty. Maybe it's all overblown, executives say, because the tech will be hard to implement and humans will find new roles. Or perhaps it's the beginning of the end for legions of professionals in one of the world's most lucrative fields. Can jobs held by office-dwelling millionaires disappear like those on factory floors? The result, is that employees aren't getting a clear message on what's to come.

For a rosy scenario, look to McKinsey & Co. In July, the consulting firm published a report estimating machines are ready to assume roughly a third of the work now performed by banks' rank and file. The authors framed it as positive: People will have more time to tend to clients, conduct research or brainstorm ideas. So far, it noted, firms at the forefront aren't slashing jobs. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the most tech-savvy banks, Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon predicted in June that his workforce will more likely grow than shrink over the next 20 years. Technology may displace workers, he's said, but it also creates opportunities. Yet in interviews, about a dozen Wall Street executives and consultants responsible for deploying technologies -- and steeped in their capabilities -- were more bearish on humans. Machines will take over task after task, they said, and banks simply won't need nearly as many people.

Books

Amazon E-Book Buyers Receive Payment From Antitrust Lawsuit Settlement (idropnews.com) 40

If you bought a Kindle e-book between April 2010 and May 2012, you might see some Amazon credit coming your way. The company is reportedly distributing funds from an antitrust lawsuit that it levied at Apple in 2013. From a report: Amazon has set up a website listing the available credits, and it has begun sending out emails this morning to U.S. customers who are eligible for a refund. Apple and a handful of book publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins, Machete Book Group and Macmillan, were found guilty of conspiring to inflate the prices of e-books in order to weaken Amazon's grip on the market. While the book publishers settled out of court, Apple decided to fight the lawsuit and appealed several times. Eventually, it was ordered to pay a total of $450 million in the protracted antitrust case.

Several refunds have already been distributed because of the lawsuit. In fact, the bulk of credits were sent out in 2014 and 2016. The round of credits being sent out today comes from an earmarked $20 million meant to pay states involved in the suit. The Amazon credits have a six-month shelf life and must be spent by April 20, 2018, or they'll expire. In addition the Amazon credits, customers may also be receiving Apple credits that can be used toward iBooks, iTunes and App Store purchases. Apple is currently notifying eligible customers via email.

Earth

Flying Insects Have Been Disappearing Over the Past Few Decades, Study Shows (theguardian.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is "on course for ecological Armageddon," with profound impacts on human society. The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected. The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardized ways of collecting insects in 1989.
Government

CNN Gets a First-Of-Its-Kind Waiver To Fly Drones Over Crowds (techcrunch.com) 54

The FAA has granted CNN a waiver that allows it to fly its Vantage Robotics Snap drone over open-air crowds of people at altitudes of up to 150 feet. "This is a new precedent in this kind of waiver: Previous exemptions allowed flight of drones over people in closed set operations (like for filmmaking purposes) and only when tethered, with a max height of 21 feet," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The new waiver granted to CNN, as secured through its legal counsel Hogan Lovells, allows for flight of the Vantage UAV (which is quite small and light) above crowds regardless of population density. It was a big win for the firm and the company because it represents a change in perspective on the issue for the FAA, which previously viewed all requests for exceptions from a "worst-case scenario" point of view. Now, however, the FAA has accepted CNN's "reasonableness Approach," which takes into account not just the potential results of a crashed drone, but also the safe operating history of the company doing the flying, their built-in safety procedures, and the features included on the drone model itself that are designed to mitigate the results of any negative issues.
Patents

Activision Patents Pay-To-Win Matchmaker (rollingstone.com) 122

New submitter EndlessNameless writes: If you like fair play, you might not like future Activision games. They will cross the line to encourage microtransactions, specifically matching players to both encourage and reward purchase. Rewarding the purchase, in particular, is an explicit and egregious elimination of any claim to fair play. "For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase," according to the patent. "This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results." Even though the patent's examples are all for a first-person-shooter game, the system could be used across a wide variety of titles. "This was an exploratory patent filed in 2015 by an R&D team working independently from our game studios," an Activision spokesperson tells Rolling Stone. "It has not been implemented in-game." Bungie also confirmed that the technology isn't being used in games currently on the market, mentioning specifically Destiny 2.
AI

DeepMind's Go-Playing AI Doesn't Need Human Help To Beat Us Anymore (theverge.com) 127

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind has unveiled the latest version of its Go-playing software, AlphaGo Zero. The new program is a significantly better player than the version that beat the game's world champion earlier this year, but, more importantly, it's also entirely self-taught. DeepMind says this means the company is one step closer to creating general purpose algorithms that can intelligently tackle some of the hardest problems in science, from designing new drugs to more accurately modeling the effects of climate change. The original AlphaGo demonstrated superhuman Go-playing ability, but needed the expertise of human players to get there. Namely, it used a dataset of more than 100,000 Go games as a starting point for its own knowledge. AlphaGo Zero, by comparison, has only been programmed with the basic rules of Go. Everything else it learned from scratch. As described in a paper published in Nature today, Zero developed its Go skills by competing against itself. It started with random moves on the board, but every time it won, Zero updated its own system, and played itself again. And again. Millions of times over. After three days of self-play, Zero was strong enough to defeat the version of itself that beat 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol, winning handily -- 100 games to nil. After 40 days, it had a 90 percent win rate against the most advanced version of the original AlphaGo software. DeepMind says this makes it arguably the strongest Go player in history.
Patents

Tribal 'Sovereign Immunity' Patent Protection Could Be Outlawed (arstechnica.com) 90

AnalogDiehard writes: The recent -- and questionable -- practice of technological and pharmaceutical companies selling their patents to U.S. native Indian tribes (where they enjoy "sovereign immunity" from the inter partes review (IPR) process of the PTO) and then the tribes licensing them back to the companies is drawing scrutiny from a federal court and has inspired a new U.S. bill outlawing the practice. The IPR process is a "fast track" (read: much less expensive) process through the PTO to review the validity of challenged patents -- it is loved by defendants and hated by patent holders. Not only has U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson invalidated Allergan's pharmaceutical patents due to "obviousness," he is questioning the legitimacy of the sovereign immunity tactic. The judge was well aware that the tactic could endanger the IPR process, which was a central component of the America Invents Act of 2011, and writes that sovereign immunity "should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibility." U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- no stranger to abuses of the patent system -- has introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice she describes as "one of the most brazen and absurd loopholes I've ever seen and it should be illegal." Sovereign immunity is not absolute and has been limited by Congress and the courts in the past. The bill would apply only to the IPR proceedings and not to patent disputes in federal courts.
The Military

SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Win US Air Force General's Endorsement (bloomberg.com) 70

As the military looks to drive down costs, the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command said he's "completely committed" to launching future missions with recycled rockets like those championed by SpaceX's Elon Musk. "It would be 'absolutely foolish' not to begin using pre-flown rockets, which brings such significant savings that they'll soon be commonplace for the entire industry, General John W. 'Jay' Raymond said," reports Bloomberg. From the report: "The market's going to go that way. We'd be dumb not to," he said. "What we have to do is make sure we do it smartly." The Air Force won't be able to use the recycled boosters until they're certified for military use, a process that Raymond suggested may already be in the works. "The folks out at Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles that work for me would be in those dialogues," he said, declining to specify when certification could take place. "I don't know how far down the road we've gotten, but I am completely committed to launching on a reused rocket, a previously flown rocket, and making sure that we have the processes in place to be able to make sure that we can do that safely."
The Internet

Russian Troll Factory Paid US Activists To Fund Protests During Election (theguardian.com) 626

bestweasel writes: The Guardian reports on another story about Russian meddling, but interestingly, this one comes from a respected Russian news source, the RBC. From the report: "Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the U.S. to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. On Tuesday, the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian 'troll factory' since 2015, including during the period of the U.S. election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian electoral meddling. Perhaps the most alarming element of the article was the claim that employees of the troll factory had contacted about 100 real U.S.-based activists to help with the organization of protests and events. RBC claimed the activists were contacted by Facebook group administrators hiding their Russian origin and were offered financial help to pay for transport or printing costs. About $80,000 was spent during a two-year period, according to the report."
Government

'Significant' Number of Equifax Victims Already Had Info Stolen, Says IRS (thehill.com) 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The IRS does not expect the Equifax data breach to have a major effect on the upcoming tax filing season, Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday, adding that the agency believes a "significant" number of the victims already had their information stolen by cyber criminals. "We actually think that it won't make any significantly or noticeable difference," Koskinen told reporters during a briefing on the agency's data security efforts. "Our estimate is a significant percent of those taxpayers already had their information in the hands of criminals." The IRS estimates that more than 100 million Americans have had their personally identifiable information stolen by criminal hackers, he said.

The Equifax breach disclosed in early September is estimated to have affected more than 145 million U.S. consumers. "It's an important reminder to the public that everyone can take any actions that they can ... to make sure we can do everything we can to protect personal information," Koskinen said of the breach on Tuesday, in response to a reporter's question. The IRS commissioner advised Americans to "assume" their data is already in the hands of criminals and "act accordingly."

Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 128

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

Open Source

Companies Overlook Risks in Open Source Software, Survey Finds (betanews.com) 131

An anonymous reader shares a report: Open source code helps software suppliers to be nimble and build products faster, but a new report reveals hidden software supply chain risks of open source that all software suppliers and IoT manufacturers should know about. The recent Equifax breach for example exploited a vulnerability in a widely used open source web framework, Apache Struts, and the study by software monetization specialist Flexera points out that as much as 50 percent of code in commercial and IoT software products is open source. "We can't lose sight that open source is indeed a clear win. Ready-to-go code gets products out the door faster, which is important given the lightning pace of the software space," says Jeff Luszcz, vice president of product management at Flexera. "However, most software engineers don't track open source use, and most software executives don't realize there's a gap and a security/compliance risk." Flexera surveyed 400 software suppliers, Internet of Things manufacturers and in-house development teams. It finds only 37 percent of respondents to the survey have an open source acquisition or usage policy, while 63 percent say either their companies either don't have a policy, or they don't know if one exists. Worryingly, of the 63 percent who say their companies don't have an open source acquisition or usage policy, 43 percent say they contribute to open source projects. There is an issue over who takes charge of open source software too. No one within their company is responsible for open source compliance, or they don't know who is, according to 39 percent of respondents.
Businesses

Tesla Employees Detail How They Were Fired, Claim Dismissals Were Not Performance Related (cnbc.com) 245

New submitter joshtops shares a CNBC report: Tesla is trying to disguise layoffs by calling the widespread terminations performance related, allege several current and former employees. On Friday, the San Jose Mercury News first reported that Tesla had dismissed an estimated 400 to 700 employees. That number represents between 1 and 2 percent of its entire workforce. But one former employee, citing internal information shared by a manager, said the total number fired is higher than 700 at this point. Most of the people let go from Tesla so far have been from its motors business, said people familiar with the matter. They were not from other initiatives like Tesla Powerwall, which is helping restore electricity to the residents of Puerto Rico now. The mass firings, which affected Tesla employees across the U.S., had begun by the weekend of Oct. 7 and continued even after the initial news report, sources said. Among those whose jobs were terminated in this phase, some were given severance packages quickly while others are still waiting on separation agreements. Some terminated employees told CNBC they were informed via email or a phone call "without warning," and told not to come into work the next day. The company also dismissed other employees without specifying a given performance issue, according to these people. "Seems like performance has nothing to do with it," one Tesla employee told CNBC under the condition of anonymity. "Those terminated were generally the highest paid in their position," this person said, suggesting that the firings were driven by cost-cutting. That assessment was echoed by several others, including three employees fired from Tesla during this latest wave.
United States

Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody's Counting (bloomberg.com) 394

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don't explain the surge in road deaths. There are however three big clues, and they don't rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent. The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we're pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day -- all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.
AT&T

Mobile Phone Companies Appear To Be Selling Your Location To Almost Anyone (techcrunch.com) 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: You may remember that last year, Verizon (which owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch) was punished by the FCC for injecting information into its subscribers' traffic that allowed them to be tracked without their consent. That practice appears to be alive and well despite being disallowed in a ruling last March: companies appear to be able to request your number, location, and other details from your mobile provider quite easily. The possibility was discovered by Philip Neustrom, co-founder of Shotwell Labs, who documented it in a blog post earlier this week. He found a pair of websites which, if visited from a mobile data connection, report back in no time with numerous details: full name, billing zip code, current location (as inferred from cell tower data), and more. (Others found the same thing with slightly different results depending on carrier, but the demo sites were taken down before I could try it myself.)

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