Communications

Someone Built a Tool To Get Congress' Browser History (vice.com) 68

A software engineer in North Carolina has created a new plugin that lets website administrators monitor when someone accesses their site from an IP address associated with the federal government. It was created in part to protest a measure signed by President Trump in April that allows internet service providers to sell sensitive information about your online habits without needing your consent. Motherboard reports: A new tool created by Matt Feld, the founder of several nonprofits including Speak Together, could help the public get a sense of what elected officials are up to online. Feld, a software engineer working in North Carolina, created Speak Together to share "technical projects that could be used to reduce the opaqueness between government and people," he told Motherboard over the phone. "It was born out of just me trying to get involved and finding the process to be confusing." The tool lets website administrators track whether members of Congress, the Senate, White House staff, or Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff are looking at their site. If you use Feld's plug-in, you'll be able to see whether someone inside government is reading your blog. You won't be able to tell if President Trump viewed a web page, but you will be able to see that it was someone using an IP address associated with the White House. The tool works similarly to existing projects like CongressEdits, an automated Twitter account that tweets whenever a Wikipedia page is edited from IP addresses associated with Congress.
Media

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your View On Sloot Compression? (youtube.com) 418

An anonymous reader writes: A Dutch electronics engineer named Jan Sloot spent 20 years of his life trying to compress broadcast quality video down to kilobytes -- not megabytes or gigabytes (the link in this story contains an 11 minute mini-documentary on Sloot). His CODEC, finalized in the late 1990s, consisted of a massive 370Mb decoder engine that likely contained some kind of clever system for procedurally generating just about any video frame or audio sample desired -- fractals or other generative approaches may have been used by Sloot. The "instruction files" that told this decoder what kind of video frames, video motion and audio samples to generate were supposedly only kilobytes in size -- kind of like small MIDI files being able to generate hugely complex orchestral scores when they instruct a DAW software what to play. Jan Sloot died of a heart attack two days before he was due to sign a technology licensing deal with a major electronics company. The Sloot Video Compression system source code went missing after his death and was never recovered, prompting some to speculate that Jan Sloot was killed because his ultra-efficient video compression and transmission scheme threatened everyone profiting from storing, distributing and transmitting large amounts of digital video data. I found out about Sloot Compression only after watching some internet videos on "invention suppression." So the question is: is it technically possible that Sloot Compression, with its huge decoder file and tiny instruction files, actually worked? According to Reddit user PinGUY, the Sloot Digital Coding System may have been the inspiration for Pied Piper, a fictional data compression algorithm from HBO's Silicon Valley. Here's some more information about the Sloot Digital Coding System for those who are interested.
Television

Apple's 'Planet of the Apps' Reality Show Is 'Bland, Tepid, Barely Competent Knock-off of 'Shark Tank' (variety.com) 78

On Tuesday, Apple made its debut into the world of original television programming with "Planet of the Apps," a reality show that brings app developers in a competition to try to get mentoring and assistance from hosts Jessica Alba, will.i.am, Gwyneth Paltrow and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Contestants describe their proposals as they ride an escalator down onto a stage where the judges sit, and then fire questions at the app developer. The problem? Critics aren't pleased. An anonymous reader shares a Variety report: Apple's first offering, "Planet of the Apps," feels like something that was developed at a cocktail party, and not given much more rigorous thought or attention after the pitcher of mojitos was drained. It's not terrible, but essentially, it's a bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of " Shark Tank." Apple made its name on game-changing innovations, but this show is decidedly not one of them. The program's one slick innovation is the escalator pitch. You read that right; I didn't mistype "elevator pitch." The show begins with an overly brief set-up segment, which doesn't spend much time explaining the rules of the show, and which also assumes that a viewer will know who host Zane Lowe is, though a reasonably large chunk of the audience won't. Soon enough, app developers step into a pitch room with a very long escalator in the middle of it. As the four judges listen (often with looks of glacial boredom on their faces), the aspiring creators have one minute of escalator time to tout the product they want funding for. After the app makers get to the bottom of the conveyance, the judges (or "advisors") vote yea or nay. As long as one judge has given the developers a green light, they can continue making their pitch.
Wikipedia

Wikimedia Executives Receive Six-figure Golden Handshakes (theregister.co.uk) 139

Andreas Kolbe writes: The Wikimedia Foundation's (WMF) recently released Form 990 shows that the organisation has developed a practice of handing outgoing managers six-figure severance payments, The Register reports. The foundation, which relies entirely on unpaid volunteers to generate the content of its websites, has taken around $300 million dollars over the past five years through fundraising banners placed on Wikipedia. The WMF says it is "committed to communicating with our volunteers, donors, and stakeholders in an open, accountable, and timely manner", but has long been criticised for providing little transparency on the salaries of its executives, limiting itself to the legally required Form 990 disclosures that only become public two years after the event.
Windows

WannaCry Exploit Could Infect Windows 10 (threatpost.com) 52

msm1267 writes: EternalBlue, the NSA-developed attack used by criminals to spread WannaCry ransomware last month, has been ported to Windows 10 by security researchers. The publicly available version of EternalBlue leaked by the ShadowBrokers targets only Windows XP and Windows 7 machines. Researchers at RiskSense who created the Windows 10 version of the attack were able to bypass mitigations introduced by Microsoft that thwart memory-based code-execution attacks. These mitigations were introduced prior to a March security update from Microsoft, MS17-010, and any computer running Windows that has yet to install the patch is vulnerable. You can read the researchers' report here (PDF), which explains what was necessary to bring the NSA exploit to Windows 10.
Data Storage

Apple Announces Native HEVC Support In MacOS High Sierra and iOS 11 (cnet.com) 136

New submitter StreamingEagle writes: Apple massively improves the quality of photo and video experiences, including High Dynamic Range. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) can double photo and video storage capacity, and cut the time to upload or share by half. HEVC video compression and HEIF photo compression are coming to iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra. Sean Hollister adds via CNET: "Having used HEVC quite a bit myself, I can vouch that it takes up less space. I recently transcoded roughly a terabyte of video to HEVC on my Windows PC, and saw hundreds of gigabytes of savings."
Books

Technology Is Making the World More Unequal; Only Technology Can Fix This (theguardian.com) 145

mspohr shares an excerpt from an article written by Cory Doctorow via The Guardian: The inequality of badly-run or corrupt states is boosted by the power of technology -- but it's also easier than ever to destabilize these states, thanks to technology. The question is: which future will prevail?" [The article discusses two sides to the issue:] Here's the bad news: technology -- specifically, surveillance technology -- makes it easier to police disaffected populations, and that gives badly run, corrupt states enough stability to get themselves into real trouble. Here's the good news: technology -- specifically, networked technology -- makes it easier for opposition movements to form and mobilize, even under conditions of surveillance, and to topple badly run, corrupt states. Long before the internet radically transformed the way we organize ourselves, theorists were predicting we'd use computers to achieve ambitious goals without traditional hierarchies -- but it was a rare pundit who predicted that the first really successful example of this would be an operating system (GNU/Linux), and then an encyclopedia (Wikipedia). [Cory also has a new novel, Walkaway , which explores these ideas further.] The future will see a monotonic increase in the ambitions that loose-knit groups can achieve. My new novel, Walkaway, tries to signpost a territory in our future in which the catastrophes of the super-rich are transformed into something like triumphs by bohemian, anti-authoritarian "walkaways" who build housing and space programs the way we make encyclopedias today: substituting (sometimes acrimonious) discussion and (sometimes vulnerable) networks for submission to the authority of the ruling elites.
Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Will Boost the Job Market, Says Marc Andreessen (recode.net) 295

A future with self-driving cars has induced a lot of anxiety about a resulting loss of jobs, but in fact, they'll create tons more jobs, Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen (Wikipedia) said at Recode's annual conference on Tuesday evening. "The jobs crisis we have in the U.S. is that we don't have enough workers," he said. From a report: "It's a fallacy," Andreessen said (specifically citing the lump of labor fallacy and the luddite fallacy). "It's a recurring panic. This happens every 25 or 50 years, people get all amped up about 'machines are going to take all the jobs' and it never happens." Andreessen used the example of the rise of the automobile industry a century ago, which many thought would cost the livelihood of everyone whose jobs were to take care of horses. But "the car then created not only a lot of jobs creating cars" but everything else that happened because of the car: Paved streets, restaurants, motels, movie theaters, apartment complexes, office complexes, the entire buildout of suburban America, etc. "The jobs that were created by the automobile on the second, third, and fourth order effects were 100X, 1000X the number of jobs that blacksmiths had," he said.
Wikipedia

Wikipedia's Switch To HTTPS Has Successfully Fought Government Censorship (vice.com) 170

Determining how to prevent acts of censorship has long been a priority for the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, and thanks to new research from the Harvard Center for Internet and Society, the foundation seems to have found a solution: encryption. From a report: HTTPS prevents governments and others from seeing the specific page users are visiting. For example, a government could tell that a user is browsing Wikipedia, but couldn't tell that the user is specifically reading the page about Tiananmen Square. Up until 2015, Wikipedia offered its service using both HTTP and HTTPS, which meant that when countries like Pakistan or Iran blocked the certain articles on the HTTP version of Wikipedia, the full version would still be available using HTTPS. But in June 2015, Wikipedia decided to axe HTTP access and only offer access to its site with HTTPS. [...] The Harvard researchers began by deploying an algorithm which detected unusual changes in Wikipedia's global server traffic for a year beginning in May 2015. This data was then combined with a historical analysis of the daily request histories for some 1.7 million articles in 286 different languages from 2011 to 2016 in order to determine possible censorship events. [...] After a painstakingly long process of manual analysis of potential censorship events, the researchers found that, globally, Wikipedia's switch to HTTPS had a positive effect on the number censorship events by comparing server traffic from before and after the switch in June of 2015.
Data Storage

SSD Drives Vulnerable To Rowhammer-Like Attacks That Corrupt User Data (bleepingcomputer.com) 93

An anonymous reader writes: NAND flash memory chips, the building blocks of solid-state drives (SSDs), include what could be called "programming vulnerabilities" that can be exploited to alter stored data or shorten the SSD's lifespan. According to research published earlier this year, the programming logic powering of MLC NAND flash memory chips (the tech used for the latest generation of SSDs), is vulnerable to at least two types of attacks.

The first is called "program interference," and takes place when an attacker manages to write data with a certain pattern to a target's SSD. Writing this data repeatedly and at high speeds causes errors in the SSD, which then corrupts data stored on nearby cells. This attack is similar to the infamous Rowhammer attack on RAM chips.

The second attack is called "read disturb" and in this scenario, an attacker's exploit code causes the SSD to perform a large number of read operations in a very short time, which causes a phenomenon of "read disturb errors," that alters the SSD ability to read data from nearby cells, even long after the attack stops.

IT

JSON Feed Announced As Alternative To RSS (jsonfeed.org) 201

Reader Anubis IV writes: With Slashdot recently asking whether we still use RSS, it may come as a surprise that something interesting has happened in the world of news feeds this week. JSON Feed was launched as an alternative to RSS and Atom, eschewing the XML they rely on -- which is frequently malformed and difficult to parse -- in favor of a human readable JSON format that reflects the decades of combined experience its authors have in the field. The JSON Feed spec is a simple read that lays out a number of pragmatic benefits the format has over RSS and Atom, such as eliminating duplicate entries, adding the ability to paginate feeds so that old entries remain available, and reducing the need for clients to scrape sites to find images and other resources. Given that it's authored by the developers behind one of the earliest, popular RSS clients and a recently Kickstarted blogging platform, the format is intended to address the common pain points currently faced by developers when producing and parsing feeds.

While it remains to be seen whether JSON Feed will escape the chicken-and-egg stage of adoption, several clients have already added support for the fledging format in the week since its announcement, including Feedbin, Inoreader, and NewsBlur.

Security

Wikimedia Is Clear To Sue the NSA Over Its Use of Warrantless Surveillance Tools (engadget.com) 60

The Wikimedia Foundation has the right to sue the National Security Agency over its use of warrantless surveillance tools, a federal appeals court ruled. "A district judge shot down Wikimedia's case in 2015, saying the group hadn't proved the NSA was actually illegally spying on its communications," reports Engadget. "In this case, proof was a tall order, considering information about the targeted surveillance system, Upstream, remains classified." From the report: The appeals court today ruled Wikimedia presented sufficient evidence that the NSA was in fact monitoring its communications, even if inadvertently. The Upstream system regularly tracks the physical backbone of the internet -- the cables and routers that actually transmit our emoji. With the help of telecom providers, the NSA then intercepts specific messages that contain "selectors," email addresses or other contact information for international targets under U.S. surveillance. "To put it simply, Wikimedia has plausibly alleged that its communications travel all of the roads that a communication can take, and that the NSA seizes all of the communications along at least one of those roads," the appeals court writes. "Thus, at least at this stage of the litigation, Wikimedia has standing to sue for a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And, because Wikimedia has self-censored its speech and sometimes forgone electronic communications in response to Upstream surveillance, it also has standing to sue for a violation of the First Amendment."
Education

Researchers Find Dozens of Genes Associated With Measures of Intelligence (arstechnica.com) 267

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We don't know a lot about the biological basis of our mental abilities -- we can't even consistently agree on how best to test them -- but a few things seem clear. One is that performance on a number of standardized tests that purport to measure intelligence tends to correlate with outcomes we'd associate with intelligence, like educational achievement. A second is that this performance seems to have a large genetic component. But initial studies clearly indicated that the effect of any individual gene on intelligence is small. As a result, the first genetics studies found very little, since you needed to look at a large number of people in order to see these small effects. Now, a new study has combined much of the previous work and has turned up 40 new genetic regions associated with intelligence test scores. But again, the effect of any individual gene is pretty minor. The team behind the new work took advantage of open data to pull together information from 13 different studies, which cumulatively looked through the genomes of over 78,000 individuals. While those individuals had been given a variety of tests, the authors focused on measures of general intelligence or fluid intelligence (the two seem to measure similar things). The genomes of these individuals had been scanned for single base pair differences, allowing the authors to look for correlations between regions of the genome and test scores. Two separate analyses were done. The first simply looked at each base difference individually. That turned up 336 individual bases, which clustered into 22 different genes. Half of these had not been associated with intelligence previously. To provide a separate validation of these results, the authors did a similar analysis with educational achievement. They found that nearly all of the sites they identified also correlated with that. In a second analysis, the authors tracked base differences that cluster in a single gene. Since there are more markers for each gene, this tends to be a more sensitive way of looking for effects. And in fact, it produced 47 genes associated with the intelligence test scores. Seventeen of those had been identified in the earlier analysis, which brought the total genes identified to 52, only 12 of which had been previously associated with intelligence test scores.
Communications

Comcast Proves Need For Net Neutrality By Trying To Censor Advocacy Website (fightforthefuture.org) 153

Reader mrchaotica writes: As most Slashdot readers are probably aware, the FCC, under the direction of Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai, is trying to undo its 2015 decision to protect Net Neutrality (PDF) by classifying ISPs as common carriers. During the recent public comment period, the FCC's website was flooded with pro-Net-Neutrality comments from actual people (especially those who heeded John Oliver's call to arms) as well as anti-Net-Neutrality comments posted by bots using the names and addresses of people without their consent. The fake comments use boilerplate identical to that used in a 2010 press release by the conservative lobbying group Center for Individual Freedom (which is funded by Comcast, among other entities), but beyond that, the entities who perpetrated and funded the criminal acts have not been conclusively identified. In response to this brazen attempt to undermine the democratic process, the Internet freedom advocacy group Fight for the Future (FFTF) created the website Comcastroturf.com to call attention to the fraud and allow people to see if their identity had been misappropriated. Comcast, in a stunning display of its tone-deaf attitude towards free speech, has sent a cease-and-desist order to FFTF, claiming that Comcastroturf.com violates its "valuable intellectual property[sic]." According to the precedent set in Bosley Medical Institute, Inc. v. Kremer , websites created for the purpose of criticizing an organization can not be considered trademark infringement. As such, FFTF reportedly has no intention of taking down the site.

"This is exactly why we need Title II net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and censorship," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, "If Ajit Pai's plan is enacted, there would be nothing preventing Comcast from simply blocking sites like Comcastroturf.com that are critical of their corporate policies," she added. "It also makes you wonder what Comcast is so afraid of? Are their lobbying dollars funding the astroturfing effort flooding the FCC with fake comments that we are encouraging Internet users to investigate?"

Could there be a better example to illustrate why ensuring strong Net Neutrality protections by regulating ISPs as common carriers is so important?


Movies

Resident Evil Getting Rebooted Into a Six-Film Franchise (variety.com) 202

Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the board at Constantin Film, confirmed to Variety at the Cannes Film Festival that the "Resident Evil" movie franchise is getting rebooted into a six-film franchise. From the report: The franchise was set to end with this year's "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter," which grossed $312 million worldwide after its January release, including an eye-popping $160 million in China alone. Sony helped sow the seeds of success by securing a release for "Resident Evil: Afterlife" and "Resident Evil: Extinction" in China. Based on the Capcom video game, the series launched in 2002 with Paul W.S. Anderson directing, and Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Bernd Eichinger, and Samuel Hadida producing the first of a six-movie series. The "Resident Evil" movie franchise has earned $1.2 billion worldwide to date, making it Europe's most successful independent horror-genre movie franchise in history and the highest-grossing film series to be based on a video game.
Education

Elsevier Wants $15 Million In 'Piracy' Damages From Sci-Hub and Libgen (torrentfreak.com) 158

lbalbalba writes: Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers, is demanding $15 million in damages from Sci-Hub and LibGen, who make paywalled scientific research papers freely available to the public [without permission]. A good chunk of these papers are copyrighted, many by Elsevier. Elsevier has requested a default judgment of $15 million against the defendants for their "truly egregious conduct" and "staggering" infringement. Sci-Hub's efforts are backed by many prominent scholars, who argue that tax-funded research should be accessible to everyone. Others counter that the site doesn't necessarily help the "open access" movement move forward. Sci-Hub's founder Alexandra Elbakyan defends her position and believes that what she does is helping millions of less privileged researchers to do their work properly by providing free access to research results.
News

Can You Copyright a Joke? (npr.org) 230

Reader AnalogDiehard writes: Writer Alex Kaseburg has filed a lawsuit against TBS and Time Warner alleging that jokes recited on the Conan O'Brien show were stolen from his blog shortly after they were published. The case gets heard in August and could create new protections in a legal forum in which there is little precedent or clear definition in what defines a joke as "original" and subject to legal protection, especially in an industry where theft of humor occurs on a regular basis. But the outcome of any judicial decision opens a big can of worms and raises serious questions: Will YouTube videos get shut down from DMCA notices citing copyrighted jokes? Will compliance staff have to be retained to ensure that their magazine or news article, TV show, movie, or broadway act is not infringing on copyrighted jokes? Will copyrights on jokes get near-perpetual protection like the controversial Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act? Will people be able to recite limericks without fear of infringing? Will tyrannical politicians copyright critical jokes to oppress freedom of speech? Will legal cases be filed arguing that a comedian's joke(s) bears too much similarity to a copyrighted joke recited decades ago? Will girl scouts be free to tell copyright jokes around the campfire?
China

China Is On Track To Fully Phase Out Cash (vice.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Motherboard: Experts believe it won't be long before China, the first country to introduce paper money, becomes the first to go totally cashless. In a poky sex toy shop in Sanlitun shopping district in central Beijing, a placard with a QR code is strategically placed next to a pink, vein-knobbled dildo called the Super Emperor, and a clitoral pump. Just scan your phone, and walk out with your purchase. The cigarette vendor across the street accepts smartphone payments too. A fast-moving queue of customers purchase smokes by scanning their phones over a tatty cardboard QR code. All the bars in Sanlitun, equal parts seedy and swish, still take cash, but have likewise implemented cashless pay, largely through the ubiquitous WeChat and Alipay app, as primary payment platforms. Beijing taxi drivers accept smartphone payments too. No one in the area uses physical money, for sex toys or otherwise. Largely due to China's vibrant fintech landscape, the recent rise of phone payments in the country has shunted cash onto the endangered list, perhaps somewhere alongside the pangolin. Many experts believe it won't be long before China, the first country to introduce paper money, also becomes the first to phase it out to become fully cashless. But when will this moment come?
Businesses

Intel's Itanium CPUs, Once a Play For 64-bit Servers And Desktops, Are Dead (arstechnica.com) 138

Reader WheezyJoe writes: Four new 9700-series Itanium CPUs will be the last and final Itaniums Intel will ship. For those who might have forgotten, Itanium and its IA-64 architecture was intended to be Intel's successor to 32-bit i386 architecture back in the early 2000's. Developed in conjunction with HP, IA-64 used a new architecture developed at HP that, while capable as a server platform, was not backward-compatible with i386 and required emulation to run i386-compiled software. With the release of AMD's Opteron in 2003 featuring their alternative, fully backward-compatible X86-64 architecture, interest in Itanium fell, and Intel eventually adopted AMD's technology for its own chips and X86-64 is now dominant today. In spite of this, Itanium continued to be made and sold for the server market, supported in part by an agreement with HP. With that deal expiring this year, these new Itaniums will be Intel's last.
Piracy

Digital Economy Act: Illegal Kodi Streams Could Now Land Users In Prison For 10 Years (independent.co.uk) 213

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: The Digital Economy Act has passed into law, meaning people could now face ten-year prison sentences for illegally streaming copyrighted content. It covers a wide number of areas, including broadband speeds, access to online pornography and government data-sharing. However, amid the rising popularity of Kodi, an increase to the maximum prison term -- from two years to ten -- for people guilty of copyright infringement is particularly interesting. Anyone caught streaming TV shows, films and sports events illegally using websites, torrents and Kodi add-ons could technically face a decade behind bars. However, the new law will most likely target individuals and groups making a business out of selling illegal content, FACT CEO Kieron Sharp told the Mirror. The Independent also notes in a separate report that The Digital Economy Act could allow UK police to "remotely disable mobile phones, even before the user actually commits a crime." The Digital Economy Act "contains a section stating that officers will be able to place restrictions on handsets that they believe are being used by drug dealers," reports The Independent.

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