Businesses

Amazon Has a Top-Secret Plan to Build Home Robots (bloomberg.com) 23

After making smart speakers a household product (at least to some), Amazon seems to have found its next big consumer product: robots. Amazon is building smart robots that are equipped with cameras that let them drive around homes, Bloomberg reported Monday. These robots could launch as soon as next year. From the report: Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.

The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like "Software Engineer, Robotics" and "Principle Sensors Engineer." People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees' homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

News

The Last Known Person Born in the 19th Century Dies in Japan at 117 (kottke.org) 64

Jason Kottke: As of 2015, only two women born in the 1800s and two others born in 1900 (the last year of the 19th century) were still alive. In the next two years, three of those women passed away, including Jamaican Violet Brown, the last living subject of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the British Empire starting in 1837. Last week Nabi Tajima, the last known survivor of the 19th century, died in Japan at age 117.
Music

The Music Industry Had a Fantastic 2017, Driven by Streaming Revenues (fastcompany.com) 35

An anonymous reader shares a report: Global recorded music revenues soared by $1.4 billion in 2017 largely due to the increased adoption of music streaming services among consumers, reports the Music Industry Blog. Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, putting it just a hair below 2008's $17.7 billion in revenues. That means that most of the decline in recorded music revenues over the past 10 years has now been reversed. Streaming was the largest driver of that growth, accounting for 43% of all revenues. In 2017 streaming revenues surged by 39%, topping out at $7.4 billion.
Windows

Microsoft Developers Hid a Secret Puzzle in Windows Backgrounds as They Knew Images Would Leak (betanews.com) 30

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft developers working on Windows 8 created a puzzle and embedded it in the wallpapers used for internal builds of the operating system. The team knew that the images would leak out to the public -- and probably the internal builds of Windows -- so they decided to have some fun with it. Over the course of numerous builds, the puzzle was developed -- but only one person ever solved it! Over the weekend, Jensen Harris -- a former group program manager of Microsoft Office and Microsoft director leading the team working on the redesign of Windows 8 -- took to Twitter to come clean about the secret puzzle. He explained that it was common for internal test builds of Windows to have wallpapers that were not intended for public release, but said that messages tended to be included to discourage leaking: "Traditionally, these wallpapers included text embedded in them threatening to throw people in jail if they leaked the build, blah blah, substantial penalty for early withdrawal, not all coins go up in value (some go down!), etc. etc. We wanted to try a more elegant tact. So early in Windows 8, we created a wallpaper that was a combination of the text the lawyers wanted us to use with an attempt to appeal to people's better nature...thus the "shhh... let's not leak our hard work" series of wallpapers was born."
Displays

Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb? (theverge.com) 273

"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.
What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?
The Internet

Net Neutrality Is Over Monday, But Experts Say ISPs Will Wait To Screw Us (inverse.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: Parts of the Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality is slated to take effect on April 23, causing worry among internet users who fear the worst from their internet service providers. However, many experts believe there won't be immediate changes come Monday, but that ISPs will wait until users aren't paying attention to make their move. "Don't expect any changes right out of the gate," Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology, tells Inverse. Merckens specializes in JavaScript development for government and business, and sees why ISPs would want to lay low for a while before enacting real changes. "It would be a PR nightmare for ISPs if they introduced sweeping changes immediately after the repeal of net neutrality," he says.

While parts of the FCC's new plan will go into effect on Monday, the majority of the order still doesn't have a date for when it will be official. Specific rules that modify data collection requirements still have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and the earliest that can happen is on April 27. Tech experts and consumer policy advocates don't expect changes to happen right away, as ISPs will likely avoid any large-scale changes in order to convince policymakers that the net neutrality repeal was no big deal after all.

Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 113

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Security

'Drupalgeddon2' Touches Off Arms Race To Mass-Exploit Powerful Web Servers (arstechnica.com) 57

Researchers with Netlab 360 warn that attackers are mass-exploiting "Drupalgeddon2," the name of an extremely critical vulnerability Drupal maintainers patched in late March. The exploit allows them to take control of powerful website servers. Ars Technica reports: Formally indexed as CVE- 2018-7600, Drupalgeddon2 makes it easy for anyone on the Internet to take complete control of vulnerable servers simply by accessing a URL and injecting publicly available exploit code. Exploits allow attackers to run code of their choice without having to have an account of any type on a vulnerable website. The remote-code vulnerability harkens back to a 2014 Drupal vulnerability that also made it easy to commandeer vulnerable servers.

Drupalgeddon2 "is under active attack, and every Drupal site behind our network is being probed constantly from multiple IP addresses," Daniel Cid, CTO and founder of security firm Sucuri, told Ars. "Anyone that has not patched is hacked already at this point. Since the first public exploit was released, we are seeing this arms race between the criminals as they all try to hack as many sites as they can." China-based Netlab 360, meanwhile, said at least three competing attack groups are exploiting the vulnerability. The most active group, Netlab 360 researchers said in a blog post published Friday, is using it to install multiple malicious payloads, including cryptocurrency miners and software for performing distributed denial-of-service attacks on other domains. The group, dubbed Muhstik after a keyword that pops up in its code, relies on 11 separate command-and-control domains and IP addresses, presumably for redundancy in the event one gets taken down.

Crime

UK Teen Who Hacked CIA Director Sentenced To 2 Years In Prison (gizmodo.com) 127

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A British teenager who gained notoriety for hacking a number of high profile United States government employees including former CIA director John Brennan and former director of intelligence James Clapper was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Eighteen-year-old Kane Gamble pleaded guilty to 10 separate charges, including eight counts of "performing a function with intent to secure unauthorized access" and two counts of "unauthorized modification of computer material," the Guardian reported.

Gamble, otherwise known by his online alias Cracka, was 15 at the time that he started his hacking campaigns. The alleged leader of a hacking group known as Crackas With Attitude (CWA), Gamble made it a point to target members of the U.S. government. The young hacker's group managed to successfully gain access to ex-CIA director John Brennan's AOL email account. The group hacked a number of accounts belonging to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, including his personal email, his wife's email, and his phone and internet provider account. The hackers allegedly made it so every call to Clapper's home phone would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.

Power

Tesla Batteries Retain Over 90 Percent Charging Power After 160,000 Miles, Survey Finds (engadget.com) 163

According to a survey of over 350 Tesla owners, Tesla batteries retain over 90 percent of their charging power after 160,000 miles. The EVs dropped only 5 percent of their capacity after 50,000 miles, but lose it at a much slower rate after that. Most Tesla vehicles will have over 90 percent of their charging power after around 185,000 miles, and 80 percent capacity after 500,000. Engadget reports: Tesla has no battery degradation warranty on its Model S and X luxury EVs, but guarantees that the Model 3 will retain 70 percent battery capacity after 120,000 miles (long-range battery) and 100,000 miles (shorter-range battery). That's a bit more generous than the one Nissan offers on the Leaf (66 percent over 100,000 miles) for instance. According to the survey data, Tesla will easily be able to meet this mark.
The Internet

Pornhub Hasn't Been Actively Enforcing Its Deepfake Ban (engadget.com) 84

Pornhub said in February that it was banning AI-generated deepfake videos, but BuzzFeed News found that it's not doing a very good job at enforcing that policy. The media company found more than 70 deepfake videos -- depicting graphic fake sex scenes with Emma Watson, Scarlett Johanson, and other celebrities -- were easily searchable from the site's homepage using the search term "deepfake." From the report: Shortly after the ban in February, Mashable reported that there were dozens of deepfake videos still on the site. Pornhub removed those videos after the report, but a few months later, BuzzFeed News easily found more than 70 deepfake videos using the search term "deepfake" on the site's homepage. Nearly all the videos -- which included graphic and fake depictions of celebrities like Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, Daisy Ridley, and Jennifer Lawrence -- had the word "deepfake" prominently mentioned in the title of the video and many of the names of the videos' uploaders contained the word "deepfake." Similarly, a search for "fake deep" returned over 30 of the nonconsensual celebrity videos. Most of the videos surfaced by BuzzFeed News had view counts in the hundreds of thousands -- one video featuring the face of actor Emma Watson garnered over 1 million views. Some accounts posting deepfake videos appeared to have been active for as long as two months and have racked up over 3 million video views. "Content that is flagged on Pornhub that directly violates our Terms of Service is removed as soon as we are made aware of it; this includes non-consensual content," Pornhub said in a statement. "To further ensure the safety of all our fans, we officially took a hard stance against revenge porn, which we believe is a form of sexual assault, and introduced a submission form for the easy removal of non-consensual content." The company also provided a link where users can report any "material that is distributed without the consent of the individuals involved."
Google

Google's AR Microscope Quickly Highlights Cancer Cells (uploadvr.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from UploadVR: Google Research this week revealed an AR microscope (ARM) capable of detecting cancerous cells in real-time with the help of machine learning. Locating cancer with a standard microscope is a difficult and time-consuming process, with a raft of information for doctors to study and investigate. With this new solution, though, the microscope is able to quickly locate cancerous cells and then highlight them as a doctor peers inside. The platform uses a modified light microscope integrated with image analysis and machine learning algorithms into its field of view. An AR display sits above a camera that communicates with the algorithm to display data as soon as it locates an issue. In order words, the microscope immediately begins looking for cancerous cells as soon as you place a sample beneath it. It's effectively doing the same job as a doctor just, according to Google, a lot faster. Google posted a video about the AR microscope on YouTube.
Software

Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law (vice.com) 84

The Netherlands Gaming Authority has published a study it conducted of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random-in game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act. "It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they'd won outside of the game, which means they've got a market value," reports Motherboard. From the report: According to the study, the authorities picked games "based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players." Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it's a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention. Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren't in violation of Dutch law. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game," the press release said. "This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act."

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to "remove the addiction-sensitive elements ('almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)...and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

Open Source

Apple Open Sources FoundationDB (macrumors.com) 45

Apple's FoundationDB company announced on Thursday that the FoundationDB core has been open sourced with the goal of building an open community with all major development done in the open. The database company was purchased by Apple back in 2015. As described in the announcement, FoundationDB is a distributed datastore that's been designed from the ground up to be deployed on clusters of commodity hardware. Mac Rumors reports: By open sourcing the project to drive development, FoundationDB is aiming to become "the foundation of the next generation of distributed databases: "The vision of FoundationDB is to start with a simple, powerful core and extend it through the addition of "layers". The key-value store, which is open sourced today, is the core, focused on incorporating only features that aren't possible to write in layers. Layers extend that core by adding features to model specific types of data and handle their access patterns. The fundamental architecture of FoundationDB, including its use of layers, promotes the best practices of scalable and manageable systems. By running multiple layers on a single cluster (for example a document store layer and a graph layer), you can match your specific applications to the best data model. Running less infrastructure reduces your organization's operational and technical overhead." The source for FoundationDB is available on Github, and those who wish to join the project are encouraged to visit the FoundationDB community forums, submit bugs, and make contributions to the core software and documentation.
Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.

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