China

Ecuador is Fighting Crime Using Chinese Surveillance Technology (scmp.com) 1

Ecuador has introduced a security system using monitoring technology from China, including facial recognition, as it tries to bring down its crime rate and improve emergency management, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. From a report: A network of cameras has been installed across the South American nation's 24 provinces -- keeping watch on its population of 16.4 million people -- using a system known as the ECU911 Integrated Security Service, Xinhua reported. Used by the country's police, armed forces and fire brigade, it went into operation in November 2016 and has an emergency response and monitoring system.
Space

In the Search for Alien Life, 'Everyone Is an Astrobiologist' (scientificamerican.com) 13

Mary Voytek, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, likes to tell other researchers that "everyone is an astrobiologist; they just don't know it yet." From a report: What she means is that answering the question currently at the heart of astrobiology -- Does life exist beyond Earth? -- requires input from an incredibly wide range of disciplines, including astrophysics, geology, exoplanet science, planetary science, chemistry and various subfields of biology.

On the plus side, that means astrobiologists have a lot of resources to draw on. But it also means that people like Voytek have to deal with a flood of relevant information coming in from all of those scientific fields and figure out how to get scientists from those disciplines to work together. Voytek and other NASA representatives discussed how they are dealing with that information influx, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field, at the Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe meeting, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, here at the University of California, Irvine this week.

Science

Engineers Design Artificial Synapse For 'Brain-on-a-chip' Hardware (mit.edu) 42

Researchers in the emerging field of "neuromorphic computing" have attempted to design computer chips that work like the human brain. From a report: Instead of carrying out computations based on binary, on/off signaling, like digital chips do today, the elements of a "brain on a chip" would work in an analog fashion, exchanging a gradient of signals, or "weights," much like neurons that activate in various ways depending on the type and number of ions that flow across a synapse. In this way, small neuromorphic chips could, like the brain, efficiently process millions of streams of parallel computations that are currently only possible with large banks of supercomputers. But one significant hangup on the way to such portable artificial intelligence has been the neural synapse, which has been particularly tricky to reproduce in hardware.

Now engineers at MIT have designed an artificial synapse in such a way that they can precisely control the strength of an electric current flowing across it, similar to the way ions flow between neurons. The team has built a small chip with artificial synapses, made from silicon germanium. In simulations, the researchers found that the chip and its synapses could be used to recognize samples of handwriting, with 95 percent accuracy. The design, published today in the journal Nature Materials, is a major step toward building portable, low-power neuromorphic chips for use in pattern recognition and other learning tasks.

United States

The Rise Of The Contract Workforce (npr.org) 95

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new NPR/Marist poll finds that 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. Workers across all industries and at all professional levels will be touched by the movement toward independent work -- one without the constraints, or benefits, of full-time employment. Policymakers are just starting to talk about the implications.

[...] It's not just business driving the trend. Surveys show a large majority of freelancers are free agents by choice. John Vensel is a contract attorney at Orrick who grew up a few miles from Wheeling, on the other side of the Pennsylvania state line. In his 20s, he was a freelance paralegal by day and a gig musician by night. "I actually wanted to be a rock star," he says. But these days there are no edgy vestiges of a former rocker, only a 47-year-old family man cooing over cellphone photos of his children, Grace and Gabe. In the two decades in between, Vensel worked full-time corporate jobs. But he was laid off in 2010, on the eve of his graduation from his night-school law program. He graduated with huge piles of debt, into one of the worst job markets. For a time, Vensel commuted three hours round-trip to a full-time job in Pittsburgh. But more recently, he quit and took up contracting to stay near home in Wheeling.

Medicine

The Second Coming of Ultrasound (wired.com) 34

Ultrasound, which works on the principle of piezoelectricity, is finding a second lease of life in medicine, Wired outlines. Applying voltage to a piezoelectric crystal makes it vibrate, sending out a sound wave. When the echo that bounces back is converted into electrical signals, you get an image of, say, a fetus, or a submarine. But in the last few years, the lo-fi tech has reinvented itself in some weird new ways. From a report: Researchers are fitting people's heads with ultrasound-emitting helmets to treat tremors and Alzheimer's. They're using it to remotely activate cancer-fighting immune cells. Startups are designing swallowable capsules and ultrasonically vibrating enemas to shoot drugs into the bloodstream. One company is even using the shockwaves to heal wounds -- stuff Curie never could have even imagined. So how did this 100-year-old technology learn some new tricks? With the help of modern-day medical imaging, and lots and lots of bubbles.
Businesses

Apple Might Discontinue the MacBook Air (gizmodo.com) 69

An anonymous reader shares a report: Just in time for its tenth anniversary, Apple might finally be killing the MacBook Air, according to a new report from Digitimes. If this is true, it'd be the first axing of a laptop line from Apple since the iBook and Powerbook were axed back in 2006. It would also be about damn time. Apple quietly killed the 11-inch MacBook Air back in 2016, but the larger 13-inch version has lingered on, getting a mild processor refresh last year that still left the laptop using a 5th generation Intel processor. That's three generations behind the processors currently found in the MacBook Air's competition, and it is the primary reason the laptop was excluded from our piece looking at the best laptop to be had for under $1000.
Robotics

The Mystery of the Cars Abandoned in a Robot Car Park (bbc.com) 105

The mystery of why a handful of cars were abandoned in a derelict car park in Edinburgh, Capital of Scotland, may have been solved. From a report on BBC: The $7m Autosafe SkyPark used robots to stack cars and was dubbed the "car park of the future" -- but went into receivership in 2003. After lying empty for more than a decade, the building in Morrison Street is now being demolished. And the work has uncovered eight cars which were left behind when the doors were closed. Images of the abandoned vehicles has sparked a number of theories about why they were never removed. But a former employee has said they could be old vehicles which were bought by the car park's former operators to test out the robot equipment. A spokesperson said: "We can confirm that there are eight cars present at the car park on the Capital Square site, which have been there since the car park closed in 2003. The owners of the cars are unknown and they are now the property of the demolition company who will remove the cars once work begins on the levels on which they are located."
Medicine

Vaping Can Be Addictive and May Lure Teenagers to Smoking, Science Panel Concludes (nytimes.com) 159

A national panel of public health experts concluded in a report released on Tuesday that vaping with e-cigarettes that contain nicotine can be addictive and that teenagers who use the devices may be put at higher risk of switching to traditional smoking. From a report: Whether teenage use of e-cigarettes may lead to conventional smoking has been intensely debated in the United States and elsewhere. While the industry argues that vaping is not a steppingstone to conventional cigarettes or addiction, some antismoking advocates contend that young people become hooked on nicotine, and are enticed to cancer-causing tobacco-based cigarettes over time. The new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the most comprehensive analysis of existing research on e-cigarettes. It concluded the devices are safer than traditional smoking products and that they do help smokers quit, citing conclusive proof that switching can reduce smokers' exposure to deadly tar, numerous dangerous chemicals and other carcinogens.
Security

Tinder's Lack of Encryption Lets Strangers Spy on Your Swipes (wired.com) 39

Tinder's mobile apps still lack the standard encryption necessary to keep your photos, swipes, and matches hidden from snoops, a security firm reports. From Wired: On Tuesday, researchers at Tel Aviv-based app security firm Checkmarx demonstrated that Tinder still lacks basic HTTPS encryption for photos. Just by being on the same Wi-Fi network as any user of Tinder's iOS or Android app, the researchers could see any photo the user did, or even inject their own images into his or her photo stream. And while other data in Tinder's apps are HTTPS-encrypted, Checkmarx found that they still leaked enough information to tell encrypted commands apart, allowing a hacker on the same network to watch every swipe left, swipe right, or match on the target's phone nearly as easily as if they were looking over the target's shoulder. The researchers suggest that lack of protection could enable anything from simple voyeuristic nosiness to blackmail schemes.
Mozilla

Firefox 58 Gets Graphics Speed Boost, Web App Abilities (cnet.com) 133

Mozilla released on Tuesday a new version of its Firefox Quantum browser, boosting its graphics speed and improving a couple of new technologies designed to make the web more powerful. From a report: The browser, version 58, is the first major update since Mozilla's recovery plan hit full stride in November with the debut of Firefox Quantum. Speed is of the essence in Mozilla's recovery plan, and Firefox 58 does better than its predecessor in some graphics tasks by splitting work better across the multiple processor cores that computer chips have these days. The result should be scrolling that's smooth, uninterrupted by the stuttering that in computing circles goes by the disparaging term "jank." [...] Firefox 58 helps with two new web technologies. One, called WebAssembly, provides for dramatically faster web apps. Firefox 58 can get WebAssembly software running faster so you don't have to twiddle your thumbs waiting as long after clicking a link. Another is progressive web apps (PWAs), an initiative that came out of Google to help make the web a better match for the apps we all drop on our phones.
Twitter

Hawaii Governor Didn't Correct False Missile Alert Sooner Because He Didn't Know His Twitter Password (washingtonpost.com) 152

An anonymous reader shares a WashingtonPost report: Minutes after the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly sent a missile alert at 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 13 -- terrifying residents and visitors across the state -- some officials, such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, rushed to Twitter to reassure everyone it was a mistake. But one Twitter account was deafeningly silent for 17 minutes: that of Hawaii Gov. David Ige. Though Ige was informed by the state's adjutant general that the alert was false two minutes after it was sent, he waited until 8:24 a.m. to tweet, "There is NO missile threat." On Monday, after he gave the State of the State address in which he avoided the subject of the missile alert fiasco, reporters demanded an explanation for that long silence. Ige's answer: He couldn't log in to Twitter. "I have to confess that I don't know my Twitter account log-ons and the passwords, so certainly that's one of the changes that I've made," Ige said.
Software

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your View On Forced Subscription-Only Software? 524

dryriver writes: All used to be well in the world of Digital Content Creation (DCC) until two very major DCC software makers -- Adobe and Autodesk -- decided to force a monthly subscription model on pretty much every software package they make to please Wall Street investors. Important 2D and 3D DCC software like Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, InDesign, 3DMax, Maya, and Mudbox is now only available to "rent" from these companies. You simply cannot buy a perpetual license or boxed copy for this software at all anymore, and what makes matters worse is that if you stop paying your subscription, the software locks itself down, leaving you unable to open even old files you created with the software for later review. Also annoying is that subscription software constantly performs "license validity" checks over the internet (subscription software cannot be run offline for any great length of time, or on an air-gapped PC) and the software is increasingly tied into various cloud services these companies have set up. The DCC companies want you to save your -- potentially confidential -- project files on their servers, not on your own hard disk.

There are millions of DCC professionals around the world who'd love to be able to buy a normal, perpetual, offline-use capable license for these software tools. That is no longer possible. Adobe and Autodesk no longer provide that. What is your view on this "forced subscription" model? What would happen if all the major commercial software developers forced this model on everyone simultaneously? What if the whole idea of being able to "purchase" a perpetual license for ANY commercial software went away completely, and it was subscription only from that point on?
The Internet

You Spend Nearly a Whole Day Each Week On the Internet (cnet.com) 52

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Since 2000, our time spent online each week has steadily increased, rising from 9.4 hours to 23.6 hours -- nearly an entire day, according to a recent report by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. The internet has become an integral component of our home lives as well, with time spent rising more than 400 percent over that period from 3.3 hours to 17.6 hours each week, according to the report, which surveys more than 2,000 people across the U.S. each year. The center's 15th annual Digital Future Report illustrates the internet's dramatic evolution since 2000 from a secondary medium to an indispensable component of our daily lives -- always on and always with us. It also comes as many fear for the future of the unlimited internet we have largely taken for granted over the past two decades. The report also found that the internet has had a dramatic impact on how we get our news. News consumption for all ages went from a print-to-online ratio of 85-15 in 2001 to a near even 51-49 in 2016.
Television

Netflix Is Now Worth More Than $100 Billion (techcrunch.com) 42

Netflix has crossed the $100 billion mark for its market cap as it once again surprised industry observers with better-than-expected growth in its subscribers. TechCrunch reports: The company said it added more than 8 million new subscribers total after already setting pretty robust targets for the fourth quarter this year, giving it a healthy push as it crossed the $100 billion mark after the report came out this afternoon. While the company's core financials actually came in roughly in line with what Wall Street was looking for (which is still important), Netflix's subscriber numbers are usually the best indicator for the core health of the company. That recurring revenue stream -- and its growth -- is critical as it continues to very aggressively spend on new content. The company said its free cash flow will be between negative $3 billion and negative $4 billion, compared to negative $2 billion this year. And that aggressive spending only seems to get more aggressive every time we hear from the company. Netflix is now saying that it expects to spend between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on content in 2018 -- which is around in line with what it said in October when it said it would spend between $7 billion and $8 billion. It's the same range, but tuning up that bottom end is still an important indicator. Some notable numbers include $3.29 billion in revenue, 1.98 million Q4 U.S. subscriber additions, and 6.36 million Q4 International subscriber additions.

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