theodp writes "The weeklong Hour of Code kicks off tomorrow, with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates doing their part to address a declared nationwide CS crisis by ostensibly teaching the nation's schoolchildren how to code. But a recent NY Times Op-Ed by economist Paul Collier criticizing Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC as self-serving advocacy (echoing earlier criticism) serves as a reminder that Zuckerberg and Gates' Code.org and Hour of Code involvement is the Yin to their H-1B visa lobbying Yang. The two efforts have been inextricably linked together for Congress, if not for the public. And while Zuckerberg argues it's 'the right thing to do', Collier argues that there are also downsides to the tech giants' plans to shift more bright, young, enterprising people from the poorest countries to the richest. 'An open door for the talented would help Facebook's bottom line,' Collier concludes, 'but not the bottom billion.'"
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Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post that morale has taken a hit at the National Security Agency in the wake of controversy over the agency's surveillance activities and officials are dismayed that President Obama has not visited the agency to show his support. 'It is not clear whether or when Obama might travel the 23 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to visit Fort Meade, the NSA's headquarters in Maryland,' writes Nakashima, 'but agency employees are privately voicing frustration at what they perceive as White House ambivalence amid the pounding the agency has taken from critics.' Though Obama has asserted that the NSA's collection of virtually all Americans' phone records is lawful and has saved lives, the administration has not endorsed legislation that would codify it. And his recent statements suggest Obama thinks some of the NSA's activities should be constrained. 'The agency, from top to bottom, leadership to rank and file, feels that it is had no support from the White House even though it's been carrying out publicly approved intelligence missions,' says Joel Brenner, NSA inspector general from 2002 to 2006. 'They feel they've been hung out to dry, and they're right.' Former officials note how President George W. Bush paid a visit to the NSA in January 2006, in the wake of revelations by the New York Times that the agency engaged in a counterterrorism program of warrantless surveillance on U.S. soil beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 'Bush came out and spoke to the workforce, and the effect on morale was tremendous,' Brenner said. 'There's been nothing like that from this White House.' Morale is 'bad overall' says another former NSA official. 'It's become very public and very personal. Literally, neighbors are asking people, 'Why are you spying on Grandma?'"
First time accepted submitter prajendran writes "James Hansen, the former director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, has been a strong defender of using nuclear energy to replace coal and renewable energy. He and three other researchers had written a letter, arguing just this. In this interview with rediff.com, an Indian news site, he was asked to address some concerns surrounding the issue, especially given the strong feelings generated by it. It may not be Hansen's best interview, but it did bring out his passionate side."
Fnord666 writes in with this link about one the development of a new unmanned toy for the U.S. Air Force. "A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying—and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015. Funded through the Air Force's classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998."
First time accepted submitter biodata writes "The BBC is reporting that hundreds of UK commercial air flights have been delayed for most of Saturday due to an internal telephone systems problem in the National Air Traffic Control Service, and delays are likely to continue into the evening. A spokesperson said that it was a different software bug from the one which grounded flights in the summer."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Lindsay Abrams reports at Salon that the Obama administration is offering wind farms 30 years of leeway to kill and harm bald and golden eagles. The new regulations, which were requested by the wind industry, will provide companies that seek a permit with legal protection, preventing them from having to pay penalties for eagle deaths (PDF). An investigation by the Associated Press earlier this year documented the illegal killing of eagles around wind farms, the Obama administration's reluctance to prosecute such cases and its willingness to help keep the scope of the eagle deaths secret. President Obama has championed the pollution-free energy, nearly doubling America's wind power in his first term as a way to tackle global warming. Scientists say wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. However the scientists said their figure is likely to be 'substantially' underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies. The National Audubon Society said it would challenge the decision."
the agent man writes "The Hour of Code event taking place December 9-15 has produced a number of tutorials with the goal to excite 10 millions kids to code. It's really interesting to contrast the different pedagogical approaches behind the roughly 30 tutorials. The University of Colorado's 'Make a 3D Game' tutorial wants to excite kids to code by focusing less on coding. This pedagogy is based on the idea that coding alone, without non-coding creativity, has a hard time attracting kids who are skeptical of computer science, including a high percentage of girls who think 'programming is hard and boring.' Instead, the 'Make a 3D Game' activity has the kids create sharable 3D shapes and 3D worlds in their browsers, which they then want to bring to life — through coding. There is evidence that this strategy works. The article talks about the research exploring how kids get excited through game design, and how they can later leverage coding skills acquired to make science simulations. You can try the activity by yourself or with your kids, if you're curious."
New submitter krakman writes "The Washington Post has an interesting story about how the FBI can investigate and collect details from computers over the net, without knowing anything about the computer location. Here's an example of the FBI's network investigative techniques: 'The man who called himself "Mo" had dark hair, a foreign accent and — if the pictures he e-mailed to federal investigators could be believed — an Iranian military uniform. When he made a series of threats to detonate bombs at universities and airports across a wide swath of the United States last year, police had to scramble every time. Mo remained elusive for months, communicating via e-mail, video chat and an Internet-based phone service without revealing his true identity or location, court documents show. ... The FBI’s elite hacker team designed a piece of malicious software that was to be delivered secretly when Mo signed on to his Yahoo e-mail account, from any computer anywhere in the world, according to the documents. The goal of the software was to gather a range of information — Web sites he had visited and indicators of the location of the computer — that would allow investigators to find Mo and tie him to the bomb threats. ... Even though investigators suspected that Mo was in Iran, the uncertainty around his identity and location complicated the case. Had he turned out to be a U.S. citizen or a foreigner living within the country, a search conducted without a warrant could have jeopardized his prosecution. ...But, [a court document] said, Mo’s computer did send a request for information to the FBI computer, revealing two new IP addresses in the process. Both suggested that, as of last December, Mo was still in Tehran.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Michael Nielsen has written a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'" Bitcoin is going through another period of heavy fluctuation: it fell from a high of around $1,200 per bitcoin to roughly half that, and as of this writing trades around $760 per bitcoin.
Lasrick sends this report from Nature News: "The devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan shocked researchers who did not expect that the seismic fault involved could release so much energy. Now the world's deepest-drilling oceanographic ship has been able to pin down the odd geology that made this disaster so horrific. The fault turns out to be unusually thin and weak, the researchers report in Science this week1–3. The results will help to pin down whether other offshore faults around the world are capable of triggering the same scale of disaster. ... The coring revealed a very thin clay layer, about 5 meters thick, separating the two sliding tectonic plates (abstract). 'That’s just weird,' says Emily Brodsky of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), who is an author on all three Science papers this week. 'Usually it’s tens of meters or more.' Lab tests confirmed that this wet clay layer is extremely slippery, and gets even more so under stress (abstract). As sliding creates friction and heat, water in the clay gets pressurized and pushes up against the impermeable rock around it. That 'jacks open the fault” says Brodsky, allowing it to slip even more. The temperature sensors found that more than a year after the quake, the fault was still up to 0.31 C warmer than its surroundings (abstract). From this they could extrapolate how much heat was generated from friction during the sliding event. Their calculations confirmed the very low friction of the 5-meter-thick clay layer."
theodp writes "Among the patents granted to Facebook this week by the USPTO is one for Inferring Household Income for Users of a Social Networking System. 'For example,' Facebook explains, 'an assumption might be made about a user that reads CNN.com and nytimes.com every day that the user is in a higher income bracket than another user that only reads TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com on the theory that a user who reads newspapers might be assumed to make more money than a user who only reads celebrity gossip blogs.' Advertisements such as those for travel packages, cars, and home mortgages, Facebook adds, 'are targeted to users based on income bracket,' which might also be inferred by 'gathering and analyzing different types of information about a user's geographic location.' Hey, what could go wrong?"
itwbennett writes "An estimated one in four user applications sent from HealthCare.gov to insurance providers have errors introduced by the website, an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said during a press briefing Friday. The errors include missing forms, duplicate forms and incorrect information in the applications, such as wrong information about an applicant's marital status, said Julie Bataille, communications director for HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). While the software bugs leading to the errors have largely been fixed, as many as 10 percent of insurance applications may still have errors and consumers who have used HealthCare.gov to buy insurance and have concerns that their applications haven't been processed or have errors should contact their insurers, Bataille said."
First time accepted submitter cs80 writes "I've been looking high and low for a decent, open-source, cross-platform audio player that can import an existing iTunes library and sort my files based on their ID3 tags. Nightingale, with its iTunes-like interface, would have been the obvious answer, but its file organization feature was pulled for being too buggy. What open-source audio player did you migrate to after dumping iTunes?"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "MarineLink reports that a fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) aircraft has been successfully launched from the submerged 'USS Providence' (SSN 719). The drone flew a several-hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to the submarine, offering a pathway to providing mission critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the U.S. Navy's submarine force. 'Developing disruptive technologies and quickly getting them into the hands of our sailors is what our SwampWorks program is all about,' says Craig A. Hughes, Acting Director of Innovation at the Office of Naval Research. 'This demonstration really underpins ONR's dedication and ability to address emerging fleet priorities.' The XFC UAS — eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System — was fired from the submarine's torpedo tube using a 'Sea Robin' launch vehicle system designed to fit within an empty Tomahawk launch canister (TLC) used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles already familiar to submarine sailors. Once deployed from the TLC, the Sea Robin launch vehicle with integrated XFC rose to the ocean surface, where it appeared as a spar buoy. Upon command of Providence's Commanding Officer, the XFC then vertically launched from Sea Robin and flew a successful mission."
New submitter rvalles writes "Xiph.org just released a major update to their Opus audio codec. Opus 1.1 offers major improvements over last year's 1.0.2 release. Opus is a general-purpose, very flexible, open and royalty-free audio codec that offers low-latency and high quality/bitrate, incorporating technology from Skype's SILK codec and Xiph.Org's CELT codec. Its first release beat everything else last year at 64kbit/s in a listening test held at HydrogenAudio."