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Microsoft is Acquiring Nuance Communications for $19.7 Billion

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 14:40
Microsoft agreed today to acquire Nuance Communications, a leader in speech to text software, for $19.7 billion. From a report: In a post announcing the deal, the company said this was about increasing its presence in the healthcare vertical, a place where Nuance has done well in recent years. In fact, the company announced the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare last year, and this deal is about accelerating its presence there. Nuance's products in this area include Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting. "Today's acquisition announcement represents the latest step in Microsoft's industry-specific cloud strategy," the company wrote. The acquisition also builds on several integrations and partnerships the two companies have made in the last couple of years. The company boasts 10,000 healthcare customers, according to information on the website. Those include AthenaHealth, Johns Hopkins, Mass General Brigham and Cleveland Clinic to name but a few, and it was that customer base that attracted Microsoft to pay the price it did to bring Nuance into the fold.

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Categories: Technology

Historic Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin Commemorated in 'World of Tanks'

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 12:34
Space.com writes: Tank battles and history will collide this month as the makers of the free-to-play game "World of Tanks" honors the legacy of famed cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin for the 60th anniversary of his historic launch into space... "World of Tanks" developer Wargaming has launched its "To The Stars!" event, which recruits Gagarin into the game along with Vostok 1 themed goodies for players. The event launched Wednesday (April 7 ) and runs through April 19. Gagarin will be an in-game commander, dressed in his iconic orange flight suit, who will represent the U.S.S.R. nation. "World of Tanks" creators worked with Gagarin's daughter, Galina Gagarina, to launch a commemorative website for the 60th anniversary of Vostok 1. You can see that "To The Stars! website here, where players can also track their progress in the event. "Yuri Gagarin proved that humans can live and operate in space. His flight encouraged and gave hope to all those who dreamed of this! It kickstarted the deep understanding of humanity's role in preserving and developing our cosmic home — Earth," Galina Gagarin said in a statement. "I'm happy to know that, through the millions-strong audience of World of Tanks, the memory of mankind's first foray into space will be preserved for years to come!" The press release promises a "shower of cosmic activities," including return of "Gravity Force Mode" between April 12 and April 18 with a new ability that "allows tanks to jump up and operate in the air." And the Wargaming/MS-1 team behind the mobile tank game "World of Tanks Blitz" commemorated Gagarin's historic flight by launching a tank model into the stratosphere.

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Categories: Technology

Remembering Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 10:34
Sixty years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human ever in space. Space.com reports: Because no one was certain how weightlessness would affect a pilot, the spherical capsule had little in the way of onboard controls; the work was done either automatically or from the ground. If an emergency arose, Gagarin was supposed to receive an override code that would allow him to take manual control, but Sergei Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet space program, disregarded protocol and gave the code to the pilot prior to the flight. Over the course of 108 minutes, Vostok 1 traveled around the Earth once, reaching a maximum height of 203 miles (327 kilometers). The spacecraft carried 10 days' worth of provisions in case the engines failed and Gagarin was required to wait for the orbit to naturally decay. But the supplies were unnecessary. Gagarin re-entered Earth's atmosphere, managing to maintain consciousness as he experienced forces up to eight times the pull of gravity during his descent. The BBC remembers how on his return to earth, Gagarin parachuted into some farmland several hundred miles from Moscow — "much to the surprise of a five-year-old girl who was out in the fields planting potatoes." 60 years later, the BBC tracked down and interviewed Interviewed that woman — who still remembered Gagarin's kind voice and smile. (Thanks to Slashdot reader 4wdloop for sharing the article.) The BBC also published a look at Gagarin's global fame in the years that followed — and Phys.org notes that even today, there are few people more universally admired in Russia than Yuri Gagarin: His smiling face adorns murals across the country. He stands, arms at his sides as if zooming into space, on a pedestal 42.5 metres (140 feet) above the traffic flowing on Moscow's Leninsky Avenue. He is even a favourite subject of tattoos... The anniversary of Gagarin's historic flight on April 12, 1961 — celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day — sees Russians of all ages lay flowers at monuments to his accomplishment across the country... Gagarin, says historian Alexander Zheleznyakov, was a figure who helped fuel the imagination. "He transformed us from a simple biological species to one that could imagine an entire universe beyond Earth."

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Categories: Technology

Are Silicon Valley Tech Workers Now Swarming 'a Reluctant Austin'?

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 08:34
Austin, Texas is America's fastest-growing major metro area, reports Bloomberg Businessweek, growing 30% from 2010 to 2019. But today a minimum wage worker hoping to afford a one-bedroom rental "would now need to work a 125-hour week." And meanwhile, homeowner Matthew Congrove says he's now getting a half-dozen all-cash offers on his house every week. "In the boldest attempt, a stranger simply showed up at his home unannounced and asked to buy it..." Even Congrove — a software engineer who moved from Florida seven years ago — is most concerned about how the new wave of tech workers is affecting his adopted city's culture. Lately, he's seen more T-shirts bearing startup logos than band names. New condos have sprouted up where quirky bungalows once stood. And the commute time to his downtown office has tripled. "They just keep coming," Congrove says. "The fleece vests, the tech bros — that's definitely imported from California." During the pandemic, Austin has welcomed more new residents from the Bay Area than from any other region outside Texas, according to records provided to Bloomberg by the U.S. Postal Service... Oracle late last year said it was moving its headquarters to Austin, and a stream of tech elites including prominent investor Jim Breyer and the chief executive officers of Dropbox and Splunk made plans to relocate. Elon Musk, the second-richest man in the world, is now a resident of Texas — though he hasn't said where — and Tesla Inc. is building a factory in Austin's outskirts, where Musk has said the company will need 10,000 people by 2022. He's also expanding the Austin area operations for Boring Co. and SpaceX, and has moved his personal foundation to the city's downtown. For all his boosterism, even Musk recognizes the potential hazards of the influx he's helping spark. In a tweet on April 4, he called out the "urgent need to build more housing in greater Austin area!" The region is facing the same boomtown dynamics that have plagued San Francisco for decades.... "There is a fairly broad-based concern that some of the things that aren't working in other areas are going to be brought here," says Dax Williamson, a managing director for Silicon Valley Bank who leads its technology banking practice for Central Texas. "If we price out the musicians we're going to find ourselves in a bad place." In a sign that may already be happening, Tesla recently selected a warehouse in southern Austin that served as music rehearsal space, with plans to transform it into a $2.5 million Tesla showroom this summer. Hating California is a tradition in Texas, but Austin's growing pains aren't all California's fault. According to the Austin Chamber, more than half of newcomers from 2014 to 2018 came from other parts of the state, followed by just 8% from California and 3% from New York... Still, out-of-state arrivals from affluent cities tend to be richer than average existing residents and, as a consequence, have a greater impact on the local economy. "Probably 5 out of 10 of my clients are Californians, and others could say the same thing," says Susan Horton, president of the Austin Board of Realtors. "The majority are all tech people, and the last wave were all coming to work at Tesla."

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Categories: Technology

Ask Slashdot: What's Your Worst Damaged Hardware Horror Story?

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 05:04
"Everyone has that story," writes Slashdot reader alaskana98: You know, the one where you spilled a Big Gulp-sized cup of sugary Coke all over your laptop and it somehow still works to this day — although the space bar is permanently glued in place. Or that time you left your iPhone out in a pouring thunderstorm, stuck it in a bag of rice and after a few days it miraculously turned back on. Yes, we've all been there, maybe cried a little and then went on with life — a little wiser for the wear. So, fellow Slashdotters, what's your worst tale of hardware horrors? The original submission has already drawn some interesting tales from long-time Slashdot readers, including two thunderstorm hardware horror stories. And there's also the user who remembers how "In the mid 1980s I blew up a $75,000 laser by not turning the cooling water on before firing it up." But what's your story? Share your own tale in the comments. What's your worst damaged hardware horror story?

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Categories: Technology

'Why We're Freaking Out About Substack'

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 02:38
The New York Times explores whether Substack is just a company that makes it easy to charge for newsletters — or a new direct-to-consumer media that's part of a larger cultural shift? This new ability of individuals to make a living directly from their audiences isn't just transforming journalism. It's also been the case for adult performers on OnlyFans, musicians on Patreon, B-list celebrities on Cameo. In Hollywood, too, power has migrated toward talent, whether it's marquee showrunners or actors. This power shift is a major headache for big institutions, from The New York Times to record labels. And Silicon Valley investors, eager to disrupt and angry at their portrayal in big media, have been gleefully backing it. Substack embodies this cultural shift, but it's riding the wave, not creating it... A New York Times opinion writer, Charlie Warzel, is departing to start a publication on Substack called Galaxy Brain... The Times wouldn't comment on his move, but is among the media companies trying to develop its own answer to Substack and recently brought the columnist Paul Krugman's free Substack newsletter to the Times platform... [T]he biggest threat to Substack is unlikely to be the Twitter-centric political battles among some of its writers. The real threat is competing platforms with a different model. The most technically powerful of those is probably Ghost, which allows writers to send and charge for newsletters, with monthly fees starting at $9. While Substack is backed by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Ghost has Wikipedia vibes: It is open-source software developed by a nonprofit... And it's easy to leave. Unlike on Facebook or Twitter, Substack writers can simply take their email lists and direct connections to their readers with them. Substack's model of taking 10 percent of its writers' subscriptions is "too greedy of a slice to take of anyone's business with very little in return," said Ghost's founder and chief executive, John O'Nolan, a tattooed, nomadic Irishman who is bivouacked in Hollywood, Fla. He said he believed subscription newsletter publishing was "destined to be commoditized." But Ghost represents an even purer departure from legacy media. More than half of the sites on the platform simply run the software off their own servers. "The technology is designed to be decentralized, and there's no one institution or one corporation that can decide what is OK," he said. The article also notes that Twitter recently bought the newsletter platform Revue, while Facebook "is developing ambitious plans for a rival that will provide a platform for local journalists, among other writers." And in a section on indie spirit, it adds as an aside that Bustle Digital Group "confirmed to me that it's reviving the legendary blog Gawker under a former Gawker writer, Leah Finnegan."

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Categories: Technology

How One Man Lost $20 Billion In Two Days

Mon, 12/04/2021 - 00:31
This week Bloomberg profiled "one of the most spectacular failures in modern financial history: No individual has lost so much money so quickly." Meet Bill Hwang, founder of Archegos Capital Management: Starting in 2013, he parlayed more than $200 million left over from his shuttered hedge fund into a mind-boggling fortune by betting on stocks. Had he folded his hand in early March and cashed in, Hwang, 57, would have stood out among the world's billionaires... At its peak, Hwang's wealth briefly eclipsed $30 billion... Hwang used swaps, a type of derivative that gives an investor exposure to the gains or losses in an underlying asset without owning it directly. This concealed both his identity and the size of his positions. Even the firms that financed his investments couldn't see the big picture. That's why on Friday, March 26, when investors around the world learned that a company called Archegos had defaulted on loans used to build a staggering $100 billion portfolio, the first question was, "Who on earth is Bill Hwang?" Because he was using borrowed money and levering up his bets fivefold, Hwang's collapse left a trail of destruction. Banks dumped his holdings, savaging stock prices. Credit Suisse Group AG, one of Hwang's lenders, lost $4.7 billion; several top executives, including the head of investment banking, have been forced out. Nomura Holdings Inc. faces a loss of about $2 billion... On March 25, when Hwang's financiers were finally able to compare notes, it became clear that his trading strategy was strikingly simple. Archegos appears to have plowed most of the money it borrowed into a handful of stocks — ViacomCBS, GSX Techedu, and Shopify among them. This was no arbitrage on collateralized bundles of obscure financial contracts. Hwang invested the Tiger way, using deep fundamental analysis to find promising stocks, and he built a highly concentrated portfolio. The denizens of Reddit's WallStreetBets day trading on Robinhood can do almost the same thing, riding such popular themes as cord cutting, virtual education, and online shopping. Only no brokerage will extend them anywhere near the amount of leverage billionaires get... People familiar with Archegos say the firm steadily ramped up its leverage. Initially that meant about "2x," or $1 million borrowed for every $1 million of capital. By late March the leverage was 5x or more. Raising money to invest in streaming made sense. Or so it seemed in the ViacomCBS C-suite. Instead, the stock tanked 9% on Tuesday and 23% on Wednesday. Hwang's bets suddenly went haywire, jeopardizing his swap agreements... Hwang, say people with swaps experience, likely had borrowed roughly $85 million for every $20 million, investing $100 and setting aside $5 to post margin as needed. But the massive portfolio had cratered so quickly that its losses blew through that small buffer as well as his capital. "The best thing anyone can say about the Archegos collapse is that it didn't spark a market meltdown," the article concludes. "The worst thing is that it was an entirely preventable disaster made possible by Hwang's lenders..." "Regulators are to blame, too. As Congress was told at hearings following the GameStop Corp. debacle in January, there's not enough transparency in the stock market."

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Categories: Technology

Google Accused of Secret Program Giving Them an Unfair Advantage in Ad-Buying

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 22:47
Google "has utilized a secret program to track bids on its ad-buying platform," writes the New York Post, "and has been accused of using the information to gain an unfair market advantage that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to a report." The initiative — dubbed "Project Bernanke" in an apparent reference to former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke — was detailed in court filings in an ongoing Texas-led antitrust suit, which were initially uploaded to an online docket with incomplete redactions, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday... Lawyers for the Lone Star State argue, however, that the program was tantamount to insider trading, particularly when combined with Google's complicated, multi-layered role in the online advertising marketplace. The company operates simultaneously as the operator of a major ad exchange, a representative of both buyers and sellers on the exchange — and a buyer in its own right, according to the suit. By using Project Bernanke's inside information on what other ad buyers were willing to pay for space, Google could tailor its operations to beat out rivals and bid the bare minimum to secure ad inventory, the state reportedly alleges... Separately, the filings reveal more details about Jedi Blue — an alleged hush-hush deal in which Google allegedly guaranteed that Facebook would win a fixed percentage of advertising deals in which the social media giant bid... Google also admitted that the deal required Facebook to spend $500 million or more in Google's Ad Manager or AdMob bids in the pact's fourth year, and that Facebook agreed to make efforts to win 10 percent of the auctions in which it competed, the WSJ said. The arrangement appeared "to allow Facebook to bid and win more often in auctions," lawyers for Texas alleged in their filings.

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Categories: Technology

US Prosecutor Urges Crack Down on 'the Scourge of Online Scams'

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 21:44
Last month America's Federal Bureau of Investigation released its annual report on internet crime, which a former federal prosecutor bemoans as "another record year." The bureau received 791,790 complaints of "internet-enabled crime" in 2020 (a 69 percent increase over the prior year), representing over $4.1 billion in reported losses (a 20 percent increase). These complaints included a wide array of crimes, such as phishing, spoofing, extortion, data breaches, and identity theft. Collectively, they represent further evidence of the Justice Department's long-running failure to effectively pursue internet fraud. Since the start of the pandemic, the scope and frequency of this criminal activity has become noticeably worse. Online fraudsters have stolen government relief checks, sold fake test kits and vaccines, and exploited the altruistic impulses of the American public through fake charities. But the broader failure has wreaked incalculable harm on the American public for years, including those in our most vulnerable and less tech-savvy populations, like senior citizens. The FBI's most recent report makes it clear that the government needs to dramatically step up and rethink its approach to combating internet-based fraud — including how it tracks this problem, as well as how it can punish and deter these crimes more effectively going forward... One major reason that internet fraud remains such a persistent and vexing problem is that the Justice Department has never made it a real priority — in part because these kinds of cases are not particularly attractive to prosecutors. Victim losses on an individual basis tend to be relatively small and widely dispersed. A substantial amount of this crime also originates abroad, and it can be hard and bureaucratically cumbersome to obtain evidence from foreign governments — particularly from countries where these scams comprise a large, de facto industry that employs many people. It is also far more challenging to find and secure cooperating insider witnesses when the perpetrators are beyond our borders. And even under the best of circumstances, the large body of documentary evidence that fraud cases involve can be exceedingly difficult to gather and review. If you manage to overcome all of those obstacles, you may still end up having to deal with years of extradition-related litigation before anyone ever sees the inside of a courtroom. Making matters worse, much of the press does not treat these cases as particularly newsworthy — itself a symptom of how routine internet fraud has become — and prosecutors like being in the press... [T]ime is not on our side. This is a problem that will continue to metastasize — including in new and unpredictable ways — unless and until the federal government dramatically steps up its enforcement efforts.

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Categories: Technology

How a Researcher 'Clinging To the Fringes of Academia' Helped Develop a Covid-19 Vaccine

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 20:34
Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: The New York Times tells the story of Hungarian-born Dr. Kariko, whose father was a butcher and who growing up had never met a scientist — but knew they wanted to be one. Despite earning a Ph.D. at Hungary's University of Szeged and working as a postdoctoral fellow at its Biological Research Center, Kariko never found a permanent position after moving to the U.S., "instead clinging to the fringes of academia." Now 66 years old, Dr. Kariko is suddenly being hailed as "one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development," after spending an entire career focused on mRNA, "convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines." From the article: For many years her career at the University of Pennsylvania was fragile. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in. She never made more than $60,000 a year... She needed grants to pursue ideas that seemed wild and fanciful. She did not get them, even as more mundane research was rewarded. "When your idea is against the conventional wisdom that makes sense to the star chamber, it is very hard to break out," said Dr. David Langer, a neurosurgeon who has worked with Dr. Kariko... Kariko's husband, Bela Francia, manager of an apartment complex, once calculated that her endless workdays meant she was earning about a dollar an hour. The Times also describes a formative experience in 1989 with cardiologist Elliot Barnathan: One fateful day, the two scientists hovered over a dot-matrix printer in a narrow room at the end of a long hall. A gamma counter, needed to track the radioactive molecule, was attached to a printer. It began to spew data. Their detector had found new proteins produced by cells that were never supposed to make them — suggesting that mRNA could be used to direct any cell to make any protein, at will. "I felt like a god," Dr. Kariko recalled. Yet Kariko was eventually left without a lab or funds for research, until a chance meeting at a photocopying machine led to a partnership with Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania: "We both started writing grants," Dr. Weissman said. "We didn't get most of them. People were not interested in mRNA. The people who reviewed the grants said mRNA will not be a good therapeutic, so don't bother.'" Leading scientific journals rejected their work. When the research finally was published, in Immunity, it got little attention... "We talked to pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists. No one cared," Dr. Weissman said. "We were screaming a lot, but no one would listen." Eventually, though, two biotech companies took notice of the work: Moderna, in the United States, and BioNTech, in Germany. Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, and the two now help fund Dr. Weissman's lab.

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Iran Nuclear Facility Suffers Blackout, Cyberattack Suspected

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 19:34
While difficult negotiations continue over a deal to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions, this morning Iran suddenly experienced a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility, the Associated Press reports: While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion fell immediately on Israel, where its media nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Sunday night toasted his security chiefs, with the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, at his side on the eve of his country's Independence Day... Netanyahu, who also met Sunday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal... Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran's program. Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country's military nuclear program decades earlier. Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited "experts" as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility. While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country's military and intelligence agencies... On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

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How Union Organizers Will Continue Their Fight With Amazon

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 18:34
"The lopsided vote against a union at Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, was a major disappointment to organized labor..." writes the New York Times. "Yet the defeat doesn't mark the end of the campaign against Amazon so much as a shift in strategy." The article notes unions and other labor groups enjoyed more success when opposing Amazon's plans for a New York headquarters by joining with local politicians and nonprofit organizations: In interviews, labor leaders said they would step up their informal efforts to highlight and resist the company's business and labor practices rather than seek elections at individual job sites, as in Bessemer. The approach includes everything from walkouts and protests to public relations campaigns that draw attention to Amazon's leverage over its customers and competitors... The strategy reflects a paradox of the labor movement: While the Gallup Poll has found that roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions — up from half in 2009, a low point — it has rarely been more difficult to unionize a large company. One reason is that labor law gives employers sizable advantages. The law typically forces workers to win elections at individual work sites of a company like Amazon, which would mean hundreds of separate campaigns. It allows employers to campaign aggressively against unions and does little to punish employers that threaten or retaliate against workers who try to organize. Lawyers representing management say that union membership has declined — from about one-third of private-sector workers in the 1950s to just over 6 percent today — because employers have gotten better at addressing workers' needs... But labor leaders say wealthy, powerful companies have grown much bolder in pressing the advantages that labor law affords them.... [E]ven as elections have often proven futile, labor has enjoyed some success over the years with an alternative model — what Dr. Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, called the "air war plus ground war." The idea is to combine workplace actions like walkouts (the ground war) with pressure on company executives through public relations campaigns that highlight labor conditions and enlist the support of public figures (the air war). The Service Employees International Union used the strategy to organize janitors beginning in the 1980s, and to win gains for fast-food workers in the past few years, including wage increases across the industry. "There are almost never any elections," Dr. Milkman said. "It's all about putting pressure on decision makers at the top...." Many labor officials urged Congress to increase its scrutiny of Amazon's labor practices, including its use of mandatory meetings, texts and signs to discourage workers in Alabama from unionizing...But after Bessemer, many labor leaders think Congress should go further, letting workers unionize companywide or industrywide, not just by work site as is typical... Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, agreed that the key to taking on a company as powerful as Amazon was to make it easier for workers to unionize across a company or industry. "It's not going to happen one warehouse at a time," she said. But Ms. Henry said workers and politicians could pressure Amazon to come to the bargaining table long before the law formally requires it.

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Astronomers Detect a Bright-Blue Bridge of Stars, and It's About To Blow

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 17:34
"Astrophysicists have found a new region of the Milky Way, and it's filled with searingly hot, bright-blue stars that are about to explode," writes Live Science (in a report shared by long-time Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot): The researchers were creating the most detailed map yet of the star-flecked spiral arms of our galactic neighborhood with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gaia telescope when they discovered the region, which they have named the Cepheus spur, they reported in a new study. Nestled between the Orion Arm — where our solar system is — and the constellation Perseus, the spur is a belt between two spiral arms filled with enormous stars three times the size of the sun and colored blue by their blistering heat. Astronomers call these giant, blue stars OB stars due to the predominantly blue wavelengths of light that they emit. They are the rarest, hottest, shortest-living and largest stars in the entire galaxy. The violent nuclear reactions taking place inside their hearts make them six times hotter than the sun. And the enormous stellar explosions that end their lives — called supernovas — scatter the heavy elements essential for complex life far into the galaxy. "OB stars are rare, in a Galaxy of 400 billion stars there might be less than 200,000," study co-author Michelangelo Pantaleoni González, a researcher at the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CAB), told Live Science.

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Git.PHP.net Not Compromised in Supply Chain Attack, but User Database Leak Possible

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 16:34
Inside.com's developer newsletter reports: The PHP team no longer believes the git.php.net server was compromised in a recent attack, which prompted PHP to move servers to GitHub and caused the team to temporarily put releases on hold until mid-April... In an update offering further insight into the root cause of the late March attack, the team says because it's possible the master.php.net user database was exposed, master.php.net has been moved to main.php.net. The team also reset php.net passwords, and you can visit https://main.php.net/forgot.php to set a new password. In addition, git.php.net and svn.php.net are both read-only now. Two malicious commits were pushed to the php-src repo from PHP founder Rasmus Lerdorf and PHP core developer Nikita Popov, Popov announced March 28. After an investigation, the PHP team reassured users these malicious commits never reached end-users. However, the team decided to move to GitHub after determining maintaining its own git infrastructure is "an unnecessary security risk." "In 2019, the PHP team temporarily shut down its Git server after discovering that an attacker had maliciously replaced the official PHP Extension and Application Repository with a malicious one," reports CPO magazine. But this newer supply chain attack "targeted any server that uses PHP ZLib compression when sending data. Most servers use this functionality on almost all content except images and archives that are already size optimized." The supply chain attack would have turned PHP into a remote web shell through which the attackers could execute any command without authentication. This is because the malicious attackers would have the same privileges as the web server running PHP. The backdoor is triggered at the start of a request by checking if the request contains the word "zerodium." If this condition was met, PHP executes the code in the "User-Agentt" request header. The header closely resembles the PHP "User-Agent" request for checking for browser properties. The rest of the request would thus be treated as a command that could be executed on a PHP server using the server's privileges. This would allow the hackers to run any arbitrary command without the need for further privileges... PHP powers 80% of all websites. Thus, a successful supply chain attack exploiting the language could prove catastrophic.

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NASA's Mars Helicopter Flight Postponed to No Earlier than This Wednesday

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 15:34
An anonymous reader shares this announcement from NASA: Based on data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that arrived late Friday night, NASA has chosen to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14 [this Wednesday]. During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a "watchdog" timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from 'Pre-Flight' to 'Flight' mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth. The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned. The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.

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Attackers Can Now Remotely Deactivate WhatsApp on Your Phone

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 12:04
"Using just your phone number, a remote attacker can easily deactivate WhatsApp on your phone and then stop you getting back in," reports a new article in Forbes. "Even two-factor authentication will not stop this..." The attacker triggers a 12-hour freeze on new verification codes being sent to your phone — then simply reports that same phone number as a lost/stolen phone needing deactivation. There are apparently no follow-up questions, and "an automated process has been triggered, without your knowledge, and your account will now be deactivated," Forbes writes. The phone can't be reactivated without one of those verification codes blocked by that 12-hour freeze (which the attacker can renew for another 12-hour window, until the next day WhatsApp blocks those reactivating codes indefinitely). "There is no sophistication to this attack — that's the real issue here and WhatsApp should address it immediately..." Forbes complains. This shouldn't happen. It shouldn't be possible. Not with a platform used by 2 billion people. Not this easily. When researchers, Luis Márquez Carpintero and Ernesto Canales Pereña, warned they could kill WhatsApp on my phone, blocking me from my own account using just my phone number, I was doubtful. But they were right... Despite its vast user base, WhatsApp is creaking at the seams. Its architecture has fallen behind its rivals, missing key features such as multi-device access and fully encrypted backups. As the world's most popular messenger focuses on mandating new terms of service to enable Facebook's latest money-making schemes, these much-needed advancements remain "in development...." Reached for comment, WhatsApp told Forbes that any victims of the attack should contact their support team — adding that such an attack would "violate our terms of service." But Forbes adds "your other option would be to follow Mark Zuckerberg's reported example and start to use Signal..." Unfortunately, playing down the seriousness of security risks has become the in-house style at Facebook. Back in 2019, I reported on a vulnerability that allowed private user phone numbers to be pulled from Facebook databases at scale using automated bots. That hack was acknowledged by Facebook but dismissed as an "unlikely problem." Some 533 million users might now disagree.

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Categories: Technology

Elon Musk's Boring Company Finally Unveils Las Vegas Tunnel

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 08:34
Elon Musk's Boring Company showed off its 1.7 mile loop of tunnel underneath the Las Vegas Convention Center this week, and Electrek writes that "it proved to be, well, quite boring... The vehicles are not going faster than 35 mph, and they are not being driven autonomously." CNET's headline even calls the tunnel "lame," complaining that the project "is quickly turning into Tesla cars driving people underground, rather than some sort of futuristic transport system." "Detractors say that makes The Boring Company's projects little more than reinvented subways with significantly less passenger capacity," adds Business Insider: Critics also point out that The Boring Company's noble aim of building congestion-alleviating tunnels under cities worldwide ignores the phenomenon of induced demand, which says that more roadways — even underground ones — will give way to more cars. But Jalopnik had probably the harshest reaction to the Vegas Loop, noting that the speed of the system is "about 10 mph less than the top speed of a 1908 Ford Model T," and calling it "about as exciting as a sheet of unpainted drywall discarded in a closed office park..." Musk's The Boring Company own the machines that dug the tunnels, and those machines, some of which were heavily modified by the company, are capable of using the excess dirt from the tunnel to turn into bricks, which is pretty cool, I guess. Raw, humid thrills of brick-making aside, all this really is are some Teslas driving in tunnels lined with LED lights. Sure, it's a 45-minute walk (correction, more like 20 minutes, sorry) on the surface and only a few minutes ride underneath, but the system is still remarkably bad at moving large numbers of people per hour, the metric normally used to evaluate mass transit systems. While it was originally intended to move up to 4,400 people per hour, fire regulations will limit the system to moving between 800 and 1,200 people per hour. That said, it looks like the company still states the 4,400 number, when used with 62 cars in the tunnel, though based on the safety issues, this does not seem likely. That's in the same ballpark as normal vehicular street traffic for private cars (600 to 1,600 people per hour) and a lot less than a dedicated bus lane (4,000 to 8,000 per hour) — hell, normal 60-passenger buses can do about 1,800 per hour, if we have them going back and forth every two minutes or so. A dumb old sidewalk can move 9,000 people an hour! But that's walking, which is what animals do, and it takes a while and has the potential to make you sweat. Proposed moving high-speed sidewalks, similar to the ThyssenKrupp ACCEL system used in the Toronto Pearson International airport, are expected to move about 7,000 people per hour, and such a system would be far cheaper and easier to build... As it stands now, we have a few Teslas driving around in long, narrow loops under the convention center, saving you a bit of walking but doing every other part of the job of moving people worse than almost any other solution. Business Insider's report adds that the Boring Company "aims to expand the system to other Las Vegas destinations, including the airport and downtown" — and that the company also in talks with Miami officials about a similar project.

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Categories: Technology

Still-Unidentified Flying Drones Harassed Multiple US Navy Destroyers in 2019

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 05:34
Slashdot reader alaskana98 shared this report from The Drive: In July of 2019, a truly bizarre series of events unfolded around California's Channel Islands. Over a number of days, groups of unidentified aircraft, which the U.S. Navy simply refers to as 'drones' or 'UAVs,' pursued that service's vessels, prompting a high-level investigation. During the evening encounters, as many as six aircraft were reported swarming around the ships at once. The drones were described as flying for prolonged periods in low-visibility conditions, and performing brazen maneuvers over the Navy warships near a sensitive military training range less than 100 miles off Los Angeles. The ensuing investigation included elements of the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One drone on the first night even "managed to match the destroyer's speed with the craft moving at 16 knots in order to maintain a hovering position over the ship's helicopter landing pad... By this point, the encounter had lasted over 90 minutes — significantly longer than what commercially available drones can typically sustain... If the drones were not operated by the American military, these incidents represent a highly significant security breach." In a follow-up, they report that America's chief of naval operations was asked Monday if the Navy had positively identified any of the aircraft involved, and responded "No, we have not. I am aware of those sightings and as it's been reported there have been other sightings by aviators in the air and by other ships not only of the United States, but other nations — and of course other elements within the U.S. joint force." The chief of naval operations was also asked if there was any suspicion that the drones were "extraterrestrial." He replied, "No, I can't speak to that — I have no indications at all of that."

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Categories: Technology

How an Online 'Lego' Gamer Infiltrated the White House Press Corps

Sun, 11/04/2021 - 02:34
Four times in recent weeks, the White House press secretary was relayed questions from someone that Mediate describes as "a gag persona for a former Secretary of State made of Legos." The reporters believed they were helping a real reporter who was prohibited by Covid protocols from attending. Politico reports: That colleague, who goes by the name Kacey Montagu, doesn't exist — at least not as an actual reporter. Since late last year, Montagu has taken on the identity of a White House correspondent extraordinaire with a fictional outlet to boot: White House News, shortened in emails to WHN... In communications with confidants, Montagu has posed as a member of White House Correspondents Association, claiming to be a reporter for The Daily Mail, the British tabloid known for its gossipy coverage of celebrities and political figures. Montagu also communicates regularly with top White House reporters and has had several exchanges with White House officials. But Montagu never joined WHCA and The Daily Mail. There is no Kacey Montagu, except as a digital impersonation of a White House correspondent... Montagu's activity is a remarkable illustration of how the online landscape, along with the age of pandemic-related virtual work, has opened up avenues for the mischievous-minded to infiltrate the top echelons of power. What's perhaps more remarkable is that he or she did it all without raising a solitary eyebrow... until Thursday. Montagu had started a Twitter account showing the schedules of White House officials, which ultimately attracted a following by actual White House correspondents and even some minor government staffers, according to the article. Acquaintances...believe Montagu's White House moonlighting began as something to boast about in the online global gaming platform called ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves "Legos." Within that platform is a role-playing group called nUSA, where people from across the world engage in a mock U.S. government exercise... Another longtime member of the community in touch with Montagu said they suspected that they created the account "just for the memes" and never assumed things would progress this far.

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Categories: Technology

Reactions to Arch Linux's New Guided Installer

Sat, 10/04/2021 - 23:34
Long-time Slashdot reader xiando quotes LinuxReviews: The community distribution Arch Linux has up to now required you to manually install it by entering a whole lot of scary commands in a terminal. Arch version 2021.04.01 features a new guided installer [reached by] typing python -m archinstall guided into the console you get when you boot the Arch Linux installation ISO. It is not very novice-friendly, or user-friendly, but it gets the job done and it will work fine for those with some basic GNU/Linux knowledge. Tech Radar writes that previously Arch Linux had "a rather convoluted installation process, which has given rise to a stream of Arch-based distros that are easier to install," adding that the new installer "was reportedly promoted as an official installation mechanism back in January, and was actively worked upon leading to its inclusion in the installation medium." Users have been calling on Arch Linux for simplifying the installation process for a long time, to bring it in line with other Linux distros. However, the Arch philosophy has always been to put the users in charge of every aspect of their installation, which is the antithesis of automated installers. Phoronix calls the new installer "very quick and easy," although "granted not as user-friendly / polished as say the Debian Installer, Red Hat's Anaconda installer, even Ubuntu's Subiquity, and other TUI/GUI Linux installers out there." They also note that Archinstall "does allow automatically partitioning the drive with your choice of file-system options, automatically installing a desktop environment if desired, configuring the network interfaces, and all the other basics." The method is quick enough that I'll likely use archinstall for future Arch Linux benchmarks on Phoronix as it also then applies a sane set of defaults for users... Five minutes or less and off to the races, ready for Arch Linux." But Slashdot reader I75BJC still favors "scary commands in a terminal," leaving this comment on the original submission: If you can't type with the big adults, stay on your PlayStation. Even Apple, with its very good GUI has a command line. The command line commands are more flexible, more specific, more subtle than the pointy-clicky GUI.

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